Signed in as:
By Walter Elliott
ORANGE - The FBI and U.S. Justice Department's investigation of the City of Orange Township's finances, after four years since search warrants were served here at City Hall and the Orange Public Library, has yielded its first plea agreement.
USDOJ-New Jersey District filings which became public Jan. 26 reveal that Franklyn Ore, 51, of Jersey City, had pleaded guilty Jan. 13 to one count each of aiding and abetting the fraud of an organization that uses federal funds and of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Ore and his attorney, Adalgiza A. Nunez, of Newark, had made his plea in the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Federal Court in Newark.
Ore was once Senior Vice President of Real Estate for the Newark Community Economic Development Corporation, now Invest Newark, and was a project manager for the Jersey City Redevelopment Agency. The Orange Board of Education member, briefly appointed by Mayor Dwayne D. Warren in 2013, had also started Urban Partners LLC, a consulting, education and real estate company, in January 2015. (Ore was removed from OBOE because he was still living in Jersey City.)
Ore is among 14 individuals, including two past or present in Mayor Warren's administration, who have been the subject of the federal investigation and a grand jury inquest over the financing of several contracts involving OPL and the former YWCA at 395 Main St.
Regarding the first count, Ore was accused of filing at least two phony invoices, with the help of two unnamed city official, in 2015 to be paid $40,002 for a 40-week Saturday family literacy program at OPL.
Ore and the two officials were tapping a $50,000 U.S. Housing and Urban Development literacy Community Development Block Grant with Essex County as the intermediary. The Orange City Council, on Jan. 28, 2014, authorized Mayor Warren to apply for that CDBG.
A March 2015 invoice sought $32,331 from the county grant - $23,000 of which would reimburse OPL for paying Urban Partners for its literary services. A similar voucher, for $19,002, was made in May 2015. Essex County would then submit payment requests to US HUD.
Not one low or moderate income family was ever tutored by that Saturday OPL program. The court filing states that Ore used the proceeds for his own personal entertainment use. The filing added that at least two city officials knew of the phony literacy program.
Regarding the second count, Ore is accused of making "concealed and undisclosed kickbacks using money and obtained from Orange: to supposedly influence another city individual's awarding on a contract related to the development of 395 Main St. and the Central Orange Redevelopment Area.
That unnamed "Individual 1" had awarded a $150,000 contract, with City Council approval, for Ore's Urban Planners LLC to work with "a Montclair-based urban planning company" on the CORA at $50,000 a year.
Ore allegedly worked with Montclair's Nishuane Group August 2015-February 2016 and was paid $33,220. Ore then some of that pay back to "Individual 1 and Individual 3."
Ore, with Individual 1's approval, "submitted a fraudulent $16,000 invoice" to the city in December 2015 for "project management oversight" of the YWCA's purchase and plans to be converted to the Orange REC Center. The City Council, on Dec. 1, 2015, approved the acceptance of a $2.5 million State Legislature appropriation, secured by Warren, to buy and repurpose the YWCA. The 1971-built Orange YWCA was later found to be too expensive to rehabilitate. Current plans now call for 395 Main St and the adjacent Rossi Paint and Hardware building to be replaced by a six-story mixed-use residential/commercial/Orange REC Center building.
Ore, Jan. 13, called himself, "unemployed." Invest Newark said that they no longer employ Ore. He faces up to 20 years in prison, $44,800 in restitution and an up to $250,000 fine when he is sentenced April 20.
By Walter Elliott
ORANGE - At least one City of Orange Township Council Member confirmed, late on Dec. 5, that City Hall was served with two more subpoenas from the U.S. Department of Justice about a week earlier.
Councilwoman Donna Williams, in published report, confirmed that City Clerk Joyce Lanier told Orange's elders that the USDOJ-Northern New Jersey District made two requests for documents. What the Newark-based DOJ district office is looking for, no one would go on record to say.
Lanier's office and Mayor Dwayne D. Warren's administrators may be complying with the feds' request for documents while you are reading this. Williams said that the subpoenas had a Nov. 29 response date but had arrived too late for the city to make that date.
"This is the process," added Williams. "Let the process play out and see where it falls."
Those within and from outside the city of 30,000 may be making this probe with U.S. special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation for any collusion between members of President Donald J. Trump's administration and the Russian government.
Both probes have been going on for two years. What both investigators are looking for in detail and when the investigations conclude are most anyone's guesses.
"All I can say is that this investigation has been an ongoing investigation for two years now," said East Ward Councilman/Council President Kerry Coley. "Hopefully these will be the last subpoenas that they drop off and they get all the records and everything they need to conclude the investigation so we can move on - because this' just another dark cloud that's hovering above the City of Orange."
Warren has told his administrators, said city Public Information Officer Keith Royster, "to continue cooperating with authorities during the course of this inquiry."
The two Nov. 29 requests are the latest of five subpoenas or FBI search warrants given to city offices in the last two years.
The latest FBI-Newark Office subpoenas were served in late April. The City Council was not made aware of them until June 6 - well past the feds' May 22 response deadline.
Perhaps the most visible warrant serving came when 24 FBI and DOJ vehicles showed up at City Hall Jan. 11, 2017. Agents carried out legal document boxes and computer software drives on hand trucks, shutting down 29 No. Day St. that day.
The feds first came to City Hall July 2, 2016 and the Orange Public Library July 21, 2016, closing both buildings those days.
Sources have said that investigators are looking into the various service and vendor contracts that the administrators executed, usually with City Council approval, dating back to Aug. 1, 2012.
Two contracts involved an HVAC repair and a maintenance contract with OPL. A $48,000 U.S. HUD grant, delivered through Essex County but later returned, was examined. Paper trails with the Orange YWCA/Orange REC Center lease-purchase and the city's water supply were also looked at.
Several contracts have ties to one former and one current Warren Administration officials - although neither the DOJ or the FBI have filed any charges against them.
The former official is Willis Edwards III. Edwards, of East Orange, authorized several contracts while wearing several titles 2012-16. It was that period where Willis wore several job titles in Warren's attempt to keep him as City Businesses Administrator against City Council's wishes.
Edwards is currently appealing a 2018 State Appellate Court ruling ordering him to pay the city back some $286,000 in salary while holding two unauthorized or fictional job titles.
East Orange Councilwoman Tyshammie Cooper's name came up in connection with her two Orange capacities. She succeeded Edwards as Warren's Chief of Staff and was Warren's representative on the OPL Board of Trustees during the library's closing and reorganization.
Cooper, who ran unopposed last month, was sworn in as Essex County's Third District Freeholder Nov. 27.
ORANGE - After a myriad of controversies and a stunning deficit, one group of citizens has decided that enough is enough.
On Aug. 2, the “Committee to Recall Dwayne D. Warren from the Office of Mayor of Orange Township, NJ” filed a “Notice of Intention” to begin the recall process of said Mayor Warren. City Clerk Joyce L. Lanier certified their request to begin circulating a recall petition for a special election on Aug. 6.
“We have filed with the Orange Township City Clerk, Joyce Lanier, to circulate a petition to hold a Special Election for the Recall of Mayor Dwayne D. Warren,” said Committee Chairperson Tyrone J. Tarver in a statement.
“To date, our ‘Notice of Intention’ and ‘Petition’ to gather signatures have been approved by the City Clerk's office. In addition, Mayor Warren, the City Council, and the other appropriate parties have all been notified of our petition by the City Clerk's office. An announcement of our filings was made during the August 8, 2018 City Council meeting.
“We are now in the process of gathering the required amount of signatures to make the petition valid.
“By Statute, the required number of signatures is 25% of the total amount of Registered Voters who were eligible to vote in the preceding 2017 General Election. We have been notified by the City Clerk's office that in November 2017, there were 16,206 registered voters. Therefore, the amount of signatures required to make our petition valid is approx. 4,052 signatures.
“Our committee has a 160-day deadline from the date of our Petition approval to gather these signatures. After the amount of signature has been verified by the City Clerk's office, a Special Election will be scheduled to elect a Mayor to complete the unexpired term through May 2020.
“We anticipate that we will collect the required number of signatures in the time allowed. This is due to the anger and frustration that exists in our community because of the most recent string of revelations concerning the mismanagement and mishandling or our city's finances and resources by this current Mayor and Administration.
“Within the last 3 months alone, Orange has had to deal with the unsettling news of a $7.1 million Dollar deficit, a very significant increase of Property Taxes, closing of City Institutions such as the Orange Recreation Center, the continuing FBI investigation and an additional FBI Subpoena hidden from the public and City Clerk's office for one month, the possible closing of the Orange Public Library, and the unfortunate amount of violent crime that has created so much unrest throughout our neighborhoods.”
Among the issues that the Committee has with the Warren Administration is one particular matter in the long-standing case of former Business Administrator Willis Edwards III. The Committee shared the following transactions in support their case of the Administration’s misuse of public funds, which were approved by the City Council in February 2016:
- $420.66 is paid for Administration Courses at Seton Hall
- $6,392.00 is reimbursed to Willis Edwards for his Seton Hall Administration Courses
- $6,408.37 is paid to Seton Hall for Administration Courses
- $5,677.02 is paid to Seton Hall for Administration Courses
- $6,000 is reimbursed to Willis Edwards
- $12,506.05 is paid directly to Seton Hall
- $12,392.00 is paid directly to Willis Edwards as reimbursement for monies he paid for tuition
- $24,898.05 was taken from the Administration, Finance and Tax budgets to pay for Willis Edwards Seton Hall Doctorate degree
Meanwhile, in a "Council v City Hall Ruling 2016-02-08" document supplied to “Local Talk” by the Committee, Judge Christine Farrington, who oversaw the matter, made mention of Edwards currently attending Seton Hall pursuing his Ph.D. Edwards recently filed for bankruptcy.
“In June 2016 when I served on the Citizen's Budget Advisory Committee (CBAC), I questioned Adrian Mapp (Orange Finance Director/Plainfield Mayor) about why approximately $25,000 was taken from the Administration, Finance and Tax budgets to pay for Willis Edwards Doctorate degree,” said Tarver. “I was promptly silenced by Councilperson Donna K. Williams. She stated that these monies were being taken care of during the lawsuit. But the lawsuit was over in February of that year and only an appeal by Willis Edwards was being pursued at that time. I may be wrong, but from the ruling that I read, I did not see mention of reimbursement to the city of these monies.”
When “Local Talk” called the Mayor’s Office for a reply about the recall effort, they shared this statement:
“The Administration is aware of the circulation of a recall petition. Mayor Warren has always been a leader who leads our City through unity and citizen input. In the spirit of collaboration, the Mayor asks any and all residents to join him in meeting the challenges we must face together, as one community. Those few individuals who want to engage in political theatre choose to ignore the will of the people who voted in the 2016 municipal election.”
While it is one thing to file for a recall, it is another thing entirely to make a recall election actually happen. According to the “Uniform Recall Election Law” in New Jersey, signatures of 25% of registered voters on the date of the general election preceding the date the Notice of Intention is filed are needed for the recall petition to be deemed valid. After that, the required number of signatures is to be collected within 160 days of the approval by the Municipal Clerk of the petition.
Once this occurs, the Municipal Clerk of that municipality has 10 business days to determine if the filed recall petition is in compliance with the law. If it is, then the Elected Official can challenge the Municipal Clerk's determination of the validity of the recall petition within 10 business days of the determination by filing a written objection with the Municipal Clerk. This holds true for the Recall Committee as well if the outcome does not go their way.
The Municipal Clerk shall pass judgement on the validity of the objection in an expedited manner, and his/her decision can be contested in Superior Court within 10 business days.
Once the Municipal Clerk or Superior Court certifies the recall petition following the challenge procedures, or if no challenges are made, the Municipal Clerk must notify the Elected Official. Within 5 business days of the certification, the Elected Official may resign from office.
If the Elected Official does not resign, the Municipal Clerk shall order and fix the holding of a recall election.
By Walter Elliott
ORANGE - City officials, residents and taxpayers may be facing a stark latter half of 2018 - if the line item budget cuts made by the City Council July 12 take full effect as early as their scheduled Aug. 8 meeting.
The 6 p.m. Aug. 8 session would be the earliest opportunity for city elders to ratify a final Calendar Year 2018 Municipal Budget. The council, as the result of their special July 12 budget work session, has had to draft a balanced budget while bridging a now-$7.1 million gap.
The end result, should it stand after Aug. 8, may mean:
- Closing the Orange Public Library October through Dec. 31
- Putting at least 72 uniform police and fire personnel on a salary "giveback" plan
- Fewer free city events - or fees imposed on remaining events
- A 9.8 percent increase on property tax payers.
Mayor Dwayne D. Warren and his administrators had introduced a $71,420,222 CY18 budget to the council here May 24. It had a proposed property tax rate change of 3.607 percent.
Mayor Warren's budget, back then, had a $1.7 million deficit. That gap was after Business Administrator Chris Hartwyk said he made $4 million in savings to fill "a $3.2 million or so shortfall'" in what he then said was "a very difficult budget process."
While the council held a June 8-26 series of departmental budget hearings, Hartwyk and city negotiators hammered out collective bargaining agreements with seven of the city's civilian and uniform unions. Most of those contracts involve retroactive salary and wage increases going back several years.
Only the city's pending contract with the Fire Officers Association, who has been working with a contract that expired in 2011, remains unratified. Hartwyk, as early as May 24, had been building a contingency fund to pay for any retroactive wage increases.
Hartwyk and the police and fire unions have installed a stricter overtime police since May, which has reduced those line items. They mentioned that economy in their presentation to get a two percent property tax increase waiver before the state's Department of Community Affairs Local Finance Board in late June.
Hartwyk and Warren may also have to enact a temporary layoff/furlough/giveback contingency plan that they filed with the New Jersey Department of Civil Service June 6. That process may have already started when affected employees receive a 45-day advance notification between June 15 and July 30.
That giveback plan is to affect 45 police patrol officers into lieutenants and 27 firefighters into deputy chiefs. Uniformed Orange Municipal Employee Bargaining Association members, including those in DPW, are to accept up to eight giveback days.
The LFB granted Orange its property tax cap waiver July 10 - but is sending a state monitor to supervise the city's police and fire table of organization and overtime regulation.
The council meanwhile granted the Warren Administration to issue Third Quarter 2018 Tax Anticipation Notes onto the municipal bond market. The notes, which are to be paid off on or by Dec. 31, will help fund city operations until a final budget is ratified.
City taxpayers have meanwhile received estimated Second Quarter 2018 tax bills.
This year's budget process, also protracted by revisions in the state public school aid formula into their June 30 deadline, is in high contrast to when the city had ratified last year's budget on or before July 1.
Having a calendar budget process run into August usually has DCA officials clear their throats and ask, "What is going on with your budget?" Mid-August is when the agency considers aid withholding or other measures to end the budget process.
The forgoing became a backdrop when the council, in the presence of the Citizens Budget Advisory Committee, put their knives to the 2018 budget June 12.
OPL gets the single biggest cut - $500,000. The venerable but recently troubled institution had asked for $1.2 million but will receive the state formula-mandated minimum of $700,000.
"First, regardless of what the library asks for, we have to comply to the statutory minimums," said West Ward Councilman Harold Johnson after the July 12 session. "The four years I've been on the council, we've always allocated above that amount."
OPL, except for the minimum funding and the mayor's appointments of its board of trustees, has historically been independent of other City of Orange operations. Having to bring OPL's employees onto the city's payroll account 2012-16, however, has incurred an additional cost to the city.
"The taxpayers in Orange pay about $185K in benefits for library employees," added Johnson, "and we've allocated another $756K in salaries and benefits. That adds up to over $900K ($941,000)."
"They asked for $1.2 million but we only approved $700,000," said Councilwoman Donna K. Williams. "That probably means that they only have enough money to stay open until October. Nobody wants to hurt the library or the members of the community that use it or need it or the employees who work there."
Having the budget process run into August creates a difficulty in cutting line items. Some line items have been spent earlier in the year.
A calendar budget process normally starts with an administration's introduction on or before March 30 with the next two months for hearings and ultimate ratification. A quarter of last year's budget is used to run the city the first three months with monthly temporary emergency appropriations thereafter made when necessary.
Catering and other expenses for some special events, Williams indicated, have been spent. They include those celebrating African American History Month, Valentine's Day and the Mother's Day Fashion Show. That left events like the Seniors Christmas Party under the budget paring knife.
"I don't think we're going to be able to do all these free programs we've been doing," said South ward Councilwoman Jamie Summers-Johnson. "We're either going to need them to raise funds or charge. For me, it only serves maybe one percent of my ward."
Summers-Johnson pointed out that she and Councilwoman Adrienne Wooten organized June's LGBTQ flag-raising at City Hall, they asked businesses for - and received - donated food for the occasion.
North Ward Councilwoman Tency Eason agreed with Summers-Johnson in slashing food catering for special events and council meetings.
"Why is there money in there for town hall meetings; if we're having them at City Hall, why is an expense there incurred?" asked Eason. "We cut out the food. People don't need to be eating at a meeting - it's maybe an hour."
State Appellate Court Rules That Former Deputy BA Must Repay Over $268,000
By Walter Elliott
ORANGE - Willis Edwards III, of East Orange, and his attorney, Michael A. Cifelli, of Lyndhurst, are likely considering their next step since receiving the New Jersey Appellate Court's June 19 ruling on his received salary while as a former City of Orange Township department head Nov. 3, 2012 - Dec. 31, 2015.
Edwards and Cifelli may file an appeal to the New Jersey Supreme Court or start making arrangements with the City Municipal Council to repay more than $268,000.
Appellate Judges Carmen H. Alvarez, Heidi Willis Currier and Richard J. Geiger, from their Newark bench, ruled that Willis has to pay back the $268,750 while he was "Deputy Business Administrator."
The three-judge panel, in their 23-page ruling, found that Edwards was appointed "by the Mayor of the City of Orange Township" onto the "Deputy BA" post Oct. 3, 2012. The City Council had voted the night before not to confirm Edwards, whom Mayor Dwayne D. Warren originally appointed as Acting BA, upon his own July 1, 2012 inauguration, for 90 days.
The mayor, as municipal CEO, has to seek "advice and consent" of department head appointments from the municipal council by state form of government Faulkner Act.
Toms River Attorney Robert L. Tarver, Jr., representing the City Council, testified that "Deputy Business Administrator" is not in the city code book nor on its organizational chart in the last 33 years. The 1985 Council had created, then repealed, the position the same year.
Even if Deputy BA of Orange existed, the three judges ruled that it was not a position the mayor can legally fill. The jurists cited state statute that the Business Administrator or the department director, not the Mayor, has that authority.
Edwards, until State Superior Court Judge Siobhan Teare's April 13, 2013 order to step down from "Deputy BA," was setting municipal budgets, hiring and firing employees and supervised the city's daily functions. He was signing bill lists, agreements and other binding legal documents on the BA's line.
Edwards, while as Deputy BA (a position also described as "Assistant BA" and "Director of Budget Management Policy" during this time), was drawing a $105,000 salary that the Council did not approve. That salary was $25,000 to $30,000 more than other deputies in City Hall.
The judges said that the Mayor, upon receiving Teare's "step down" order, appointed Edwards as Chief of Staff.
The mayor has the authority to appoint a chief of staff. Edwards, while in that new position, executed the authority and responsibilities as a BA or Deputy BA. He was drawing what would become a $120,000 annual salary plus annual $10,000 stipends as Orange's Affirmative Action Officer.
Appellate judges considered the above said actions "ultra vires" - beyond the power and authority as written in legal statutes. They ordered Edwards to repay the Council for his wages as BA/Deputy BA/Chief of Staff/AAO - but not what he earned while as Acting BA.
The three-judge ruling affirms Superior Court Judge Christine A. Farrington's Feb. 18, 2016 order against Edwards.
Farrington, from her Newark bench, directed Edwards to resign and leave Orange City Hall Dec. 31, 2015. She had set a Jan. 4, 2016 trial start date.
Edwards and Cifelli - from the Florio, Kenny, Raval LLC firm of Hoboken the filed their appeal. They contended that Edwards should keep the $268,750 since he was "acting in the position in good faith."
Edwards, a former State Assemblyman of the 34th District, testified before the three judges that he had not read the city and state statutes regarding the three positions he had held. The judges, in their June 19th ruling, found that his testimony did not square with his 20 years as a college professor on government and public administration.
He was pursuing an MBA from NJIT and was a doctoral candidate at Seton Hall University 2012-16. The dual Columbia University master’s degree holder in finance and business management has also been on various boards in New York and New Jersey.
The appellate court's ruling listed Warren in two early footnotes but never by name. The first footnote stated that he "was an attorney practicing law in this state." The second stated that "On the eve of (a March 8, 2013) trial, the parties stipulated to the dismissal of the mayor from the lawsuit."
Mayor Warren, although dismissed as a defendant in the above proceedings, does not come out of this ruling in a positive light.
The Mayor was the one who created the "Deputy BA" post and offered the Chief of Staff position - to which Edwards accepted.
Edwards was campaign manager to then-Council Legal Research Officer Warren in his successful 2014 election campaign for mayor.
The Council, as of deadline, has not received any of the $268,750 they said Edwards owes the City of Orange.
By Walter Elliott
ORANGE - City officials and uniform employees are learning that its New Jersey State Civil Service Commission-approved workday "giveback" plan that may take effect July 30.
Members of Orange's police and fire departments may be getting notices of the temporary layoff plan in their mail when or soon after you read this - if not already. The notices may be coming from Orange City Hall, with Civil Service permission, during a 45-day June 15-July 30 period.
The temporary layoff or giveback plan would affect 72 of Orange's "finest" and "bravest": 24 police officers, 15 police sergeants, six police lieutenants, 15 firefighters, eight fire captains and four deputy fire chiefs.
It is not clear, as of June 26, whether the 72 uniform temporary layoffs include those who have been planning their retirement. The plan is also not clear whether some 30 firefighters and police officers who are fresh from their training academies and on training probation will be idled.
Orange City Business Administrator Chris Hartwyk has stated since June 6 that he had to file a temporary layoff plan with the State Civil Service May 29 as a contingency. He had also had a hearing with the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs' Local Government Board to waive the two percent property tax increase cap by using last year's municipal budget surplus.
"They're not furlough days," explained Hartwyk during the council's June 16 departmental budget hearings. "They're giveback days because they're essential personnel."
Hartwyk was responding to Councilwoman Donna K. Williams' June 16 questions about whether the fire and police unions have agreed to "the furlough days."
The BA replied that those negotiations are continuing. He has also been putting aside funds for a retroactive pay raise on a prospective Fire Officers Association contract. The FOA, which has not had a new contract since 2011, is the last of the city's contracts to be negotiated with its unions.
The respective Orange PBA, FMBA and SOA presidents are to also get copies of the giveback notices once they are mailed.
Uniformed OMEBA employees, in the plan, have agreed to eight giveback days. It is not clear whether Department of Public Works and like OMEBA members are to take all eight at once or over time. OMEBA is also regulated by the state Civil Service.
A June 14 letter between Civil Service Agency Services Director Kelly Glenn to agency Chairwoman Deirdre Webster that have since been made public states that Orange is facing a $7.1 million deficit in its Calendar Year 2018 Municipal Budget.
"The city has taken other measures to reduce costs; however, a large deficit remains," said Kelly to Wilson. "Therefore, for reasons of economy and efficiency, the city has proposed a layoff to reduce costs, to avoid significant adverse impact on the city's financial performance."
The city, under Mayor Eldridge J. Hawkins' Administration, laid off 11 OPD officers Jan. 11, 2011 and put some others on furlough to meet that year's budget. Some observers believe that the layoffs led some unions to shift their support to the Warren for Mayor 2014 campaign.
Irvington's furlough plan, by comparison, involved reducing last year's payroll calendar by one pay period. Funds from the "missing" two week pay period helped plug the township's CY 2017 $3.25 million deficit.
Orange's purported $7.1 million deficit is the largest gap yet for the CY2018 budget. There had been unofficial reports of a $5 million hole facing Mayor Dwayne Warren's Administration and the City Council.
The 2018 budget, which Hartwyk introduced to the Council on Warren's behalf May 24, is currently undergoing council department budget hearings. It stood June 1 at $71,420,222 with a 3.607 percent tax rate change.
No one in City Hall, as of noon June 27, has confirmed or denied that the CY18 budget is $7.1 million short.
Hartwyk, who said that this year's municipal budget process has been "extremely difficult," told "Local Talk" June 6 that he had to "find $4 million in savings to fill a $3.2 or so million shortfall."
"The union heads should talk with their membership," said North Ward Councilwoman Tency Eason June 16. "Overtime has been controlled, not eliminated. It's our intention that not one employee will be laid off."