I’m an observer in life. That’s what I do for a living. I watch people for a living…their body language, analyze what they have to say and why they say it…and become quickly aware of the reasons they say and do the things they do.
Sometimes, it takes time to sift through a story, especially when a messy issue is in the way. But I promise you, I will do all I can to get to the heart of a story.
Case in point, the upcoming primary on Tuesday and the strength of the attacks against the assembly campaign of Gail Phoebus and Parker Space from the camp of the Marie Bilik campaign.
I wrote a piece several weeks back (click here) that noted Assemblyman Parker Space was being needlessly attacked for his request for an investigation into the solar project that has cost Sussex County taxpayers millions, without added benefit. The benefit is not for the county but many, including me, believe has fiscally benefitted an elite few who guided this project. Not Assemblyman Space, though he was being accused personally on Facebook by Bilik of “leading the charge” for the project. I found her statements to be erroneous on this matter based on evidence I found, so I rebutted her claims with fact.
After publication of my piece about Parker Space, a member of the Bilik team came back and questioned me via a Facebook chat. Where did my evidence come from? Simple, I pulled the meeting minutes available to the public. Mr. Space had nothing to do with this based on the public meeting minutes. I included the county meeting minutes in my piece. The member of the Bilik team did a song and dance routine that I hadn’t looked into the hours of executive meeting minutes proving so. “OK so bring these to me and I will look at them.”
And of course, those meeting minutes never came to me.
And I was cautioned by this person that this could “end up in litigation.” Oh really? “Are you threatening me?” I asked. I was told “no” but that to me was a veiled threat. Threatening a divorced mom who is an independent small business owner…I see. Secondly, this person doesn’t know what kind of moxie this girl has and has already challenged and successfully defeated a lawsuit that came my way early in my career…in which the plaintiff walked away with their tail between their legs after my motion to dismiss with prejudice was upheld by the courts. They had no legal leg to stand on because I had researched and written the truth about their activities and they didn’t like it…plain and simple.
What did come to me from that outreach from the Bilik camp contact is the sense that something is amiss. Why was this person so adamant to slam Parker Space? Why was this solar project so important to them? (Though they claimed the project is something that also upset them). Like I mentioned above, you question me about my work because it bothers you, I’m happy to listen to you…but if you’re going to grill me for carefully researched work that I know shows the truth, I’m going to question your intentions.
The however to me is that two prominent members of Marie Bilik’s teams (including the one who unsuccessfully grilled me) are involved with Concord Engineering which has been lobbying in Sussex County along with the solar project, that municipalities and other entities join the Passaic County Energy Pricing Cooperative. That was what I sensed the defensive.
In my opinion the Concord connection is intrinsically connected and should be questioned more. Especially seeing the pushback from the two Bilik camp members in my direction and in the direction of others, complaining about too much talk about the solar project.
At the most recent freeholder meeting, Concord Engineering’s contract for the county was renewed without any other competitive bids, cost-analysis, pay to play issues, or any potential conflicts of interest reviewed. The two members of the freeholder board who voted against this renewal, George Graham and Gail Phoebus, were knocked down by the other three.
The freeholder board meetings have turned upside down as a result of this solar scandal. In all of my years as a reporter, I have never seen such discourse between freeholder board members and the county administrator. Graham and Phoebus have both challenged this issue strongly about the solar project, while freeholder board members Phil Crabb, Richard Vohden (who has made it clear he is a strong Marie Bilik supporter) and Dennis Mudrick have advocated for the settlement agreement, basically telling everyone who challenges their decision to sit down and shut up. The settlement agreement prevailed in spite of Graham’s and Phoebus’ objections to it. And in the meantime, during freeholder meetings, retiring county administrator John Eskilson rolls his eyes every time Phoebus speaks her mind on the topic. The other three freeholders (Crabb, Vohden and Mudrick) stepped on Phoebus at this last meeting I attended when she was trying to speak, to the dismay of the crowd.
“Let the lady speak!” A member of the audience called out during the meeting. That person later took to the podium to address Vohden most specifically in his treatment of Phoebus and said that their treatment of her was discourteous.
Phoebus was attempting to tell the public about her request for a list of expenses related to the solar project, which she received a copy back from the county (read about it here), which was heavily redacted when it was returned to her (click here to view the document). Names and pertinent information about parties attorneys were meeting with were blacked out all over the place. That’s suspect enough. Whose names aren’t intended to be seen on the Gabel and Pearlman invoices? These were other architects of the solar project who helped to push it down the county’s throat and have since resigned from the Morris County Improvement Authority in April. Pearlman’s invoices to the County of Sussex have totaled to about $771,844.
The real kicker, in my eyes during the freeholder meeting that I attended, came when Graham answered a resident’s question about the project. Graham said a set of fresh eyes was needed to look at this project and Vohden challenged him.
“In the end, you follow the money,” Graham stated.
“We don’t know that’s a fact,” Vohden replied. “We can make accusations all day long. Making money is not a bad thing.”
“Not off the backs of the taxpayers,” has been Graham’s reply.
Boom. Silence in the room along with gasps from the audience. Those gasps also later came when Vohden stated that the freeholder board was being generous in even allowing the public to speak, that it was not a requirement for the freeholder board to allow the public to speak and Crabb sided with him, noting that each speaker had five minutes, which the board had extended to allow for additional time. Many in the audience that night also asked that the freeholders change their meeting time to a later hour (it’s currently 5 p.m.) so that more could attend it. Some questioned if it’s traditionally been held so early, to prevent the public from learning of important decisions.
An interesting, well-written and very spot-on piece just came out in The New Jersey Herald from Eric Obernauer about the solar project, “Solar project payments may have skirted federal law.” Here is the link. I highly recommend everyone read it. Obernauer points out how the solar project may have bypassed federal laws and misused funds. Both Phoebus, running for Assembly and her running mate, incumbent Parker Space, have challenged this and brought it to the attention of state and federal law enforcement agencies. With another hat tip to Obernauer’s article, he has aptly noted that this issue may be out of the state’s hands and is now right into the hands of the federal government.
Let’s look at it simply folks. Sussex County has spent $28 million on debt service, attorney fees and other expenses for a project that hasn’t been fully completed and that some municipalities have already ended up involved and said they are barely breaking even. That’s no chump change and those monies could have been better served for projects that could have benefitted the county. Plus, the county residents have also paid about $1.4 million in funds to attorneys for the arbitration between the solar parties SunLight General Capital and PowerPartners MasTec. Why do people in the county have to pay for their squabbles?
And our county officials, excluding Graham and Phoebus who voted down for the idea of settling on this nonsense, Vohden, Crabb and Mudrick signed off on the hold harmless settlement on this project, as Mr. Obernauer’s article aptly points out, without giving this over to law enforcement first before making a decision on it.
Now, let’s return to the ugly campaign. One of Marie Bilik’s challenges to Gail Phoebus after she was done publicly defaming Parker Space was that Phoebus was going to cost the taxpayers in litigation for speaking out because of a gag order that was put into place with this ridiculous settlement. Phoebus has already said she will not be gagged in speaking out about the wrongdoing of these companies and attached is a letter from her attorney stating by censoring her it is a violation of her free speech (click here to read the letter from Phoebus’ attorney, Daniel Perez). One of the people who chastised Phoebus was county attorney Dennis McConnell, who has since resigned as county counsel (And as an aside, Bernie Re, county treasurer, who at recent freeholder meeting noted that he was “out of here in June,” is another resignation…smell anything funny yet readers?).
Why silence Phoebus? Because there are certain someones out there who might be exposed to potential criminal action for this whole mess. Plus, the pockets of certain individuals I’m thinking will no longer be lined.
As one of NJInsideScene.com’s readers responded astutely when I posed the question about why county administrator Eskilson kicked back a heavily redacted document to Phoebus, this person replied, “Why? Because like the majority of politicians, he has done something wrong and is hiding it! Sounds like an investigation may be needed!”
Let’s get back to me being an observer. I observe people’s reactions. I received a letter to the editor from a member of the Marie Bilik team who is a Concord Engineering employee noting their choice for Assembly, yet downing the candidates this person was not fond of. I rejected this letter for its defamatory nature towards Gail Phoebus. I said to this person they were welcome to submit this letter back to me in support of their candidate, without the defamation…which they did revise their letter and resubmitted it without attacks, and I published it. I do not accept defamatory pieces, period. After attacking Phoebus’s character in ways I found not suitable for print, the Bilik supporter’s other complaint in their letter was that Phoebus talked about the solar project too much and this person complained that she went to the FBI, chewing her this way and that for Phoebus daring to challenge the solar project and seeking FBI assistance.
In my humble opinion, and I am allowed to give my opinion as well even as a journalist, going to the FBI was a good thing for Freeholder Phoebus to do, because according to Mr. Obernauer’s fine article, that’s the direction the solar scandal is headed, right to federal law enforcement. However, to this person, Phoebus’ persistence upsets the apple cart…that’s because I believe they fear they will be left scrambling to pick up their own apples as a result.
Let’s get to another issue of attacks against someone against the solar project, Kelly Hart. Hart has worked as a paid consultant for other campaigns and has volunteered her efforts for the Space and Phoebus efforts. She stated has been harassed and filed police reports for hate mail she has received and vandalism to her personal home since she has stood up to this. That’s not acceptable on any level. She submitted a letter to the editor about this to us (click here to view), even noting freeholder Vohden, who had been a friend, has now turned on her. Vohden did stir the pot on Mother’s Day with a post in which he tagged Hart in and that can be proven.
After I published her letter to the editor, I received a message from a member of the Bilik camp stating that I should not publish anything from Hart because she did not disclose she is a paid consultant. I said I welcomed a separate letter to the editor if they wanted to write about this topic, but as that person knew already (the same one who lambasted Phoebus) I would not accept defamation. I also noted that Hart has never hidden the facts about her paid and volunteer work. On the Parker Space campaign, she requested reimbursement of a whopping $451.50 for monies for mailings, postage and consulting.
The person who has attempted to defame Phoebus and Hart through the use of my site I will remind once again is employed by Concord Engineering.
But they didn’t stop there. A political piece ended up against Hart on Politiker NJ (click here) with a cease and desist letter on it allegedly to be on behalf Marie Bilik and one of her team members (not the one who contacted me)…who happens to employed by Concord Engineering.
Yet, while these parties publishes the letter on Politiker asking Hart to cease and desist, the same campaign volunteer and Concord Engineering employee who claims they have been defamed by Hart took the liberty to publish a comment on Hart’s personal Facebook Page following the publication of the Politiker article. On Hart’s page they complained about Senator Steve Oroho’s endorsement of Phoebus (they accused him of “rubber stamping” and “no longer fighting the establishment”), which we published in NJInsideScene.com (click here to view). Now, this individual could have come to the NJ Inside Scene Facebook Page and commented there where this post originated from, but instead, they chose to add their two cents to Kelly Hart’s personal Facebook Page…yet they complained Hart is harassing them and this person and Marie Bilik posted a cease and desist online…yet they go on Hart’s personal Facebook Page with commentary after they go public with such a letter? Come on…
Hart replied to this person in Oroho’s defense, “Concord Energy, Wall Street, The French Bankers of Sunlight Group, Gabel, Pearlman, and all your other solar pals THEY ARE THE ESTABLISHMENT. Our Senator, true to his reformist roots, is fighting for the people of Sussex County against the vicious oppression of the vendor class of which you are a member of.”
All I will say is I will keep observing and I will keep reporting. And readers and voters, I hope this will shed some light as to what’s been going on behind the scenes and why you need to choose wisely and carefully for the future of Sussex County. This solar project is big and is at the center of a major power struggle in our county.
As Freeholder George Graham stated it so well…
“Follow the money.”
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