UNION COUNTY — Nobody got fired when taxpayers shelled out $800,000 in damages and legal fees for two employees who proved they were passed over for promotion so the son of Union Mayor Joseph Florio could get an $8,000 pay hike.
Similarly, Sheriff’s Officer Virginia Fanelli was the only person who lost a job when she proved she was a victim of harassment, discrimination and retaliation in a lawsuit that cost taxpayers about $3 million.
In case after case, acts of malfeasance and incompetence among the politically-connected in county government are unpunished and in some instances, malefactors are rewarded by power brokers.
Three Democratic candidates for freeholder say they want to change that policy of neglect.
Carmen Southward, Janet Reynolds and Elcy Castillo-Ospina say when politicians fail to address those county employees who are abusive toward the public or unjust in their behavior they are cheating the taxpayers.
“The people we elect forget that they are our employees and instead treat their employees as the bosses,” said Southward.
“At least 65 lawsuits against Union County were listed by the countywatchers.com website,” said Reynolds. “These cases run up thousands of dollars in legal fees for law firms that contribute to the Regular Political Organization campaign funds.”
“When women successfully prosecuted claims of sexual harassment, discrimination and abuse, the freeholders paid off the victims and the lawyers,” said Castillo-Ospina.
“The failed to fire anyone or otherwise take responsibility for the actions that resulted in the successful lawsuits,” she said.
The Democrats for Change candidates have plenty of ammo to back up their allegations.
Jail guard Francis Roberts alleged he was a victim of sexual harassment by another male corrections officer.
There have been numerous legal actions for wrongful deaths of both juveniles held in the county detention center and adult county jail inmates.
Women and ethnic minorities are frequently caused to sue over discriminatory jobs actions.
Overall, county taxpayers have paid out in excess of $14 million without any employees losing a job except for those victims who gave up occupations as part of a settlement agreement.
Running on Column B, Southward, Reynolds and Castillo-Ospina say voters need to elect new leadership or suffer more of the same.
“There is no accountability in county government and the politicians do not want to change,” said Southward.
“Its sounds like it might be that time of the month,” said Freeholder Daniel Sullivan, leader of the Regular Political Organization ticket. “I hear the complaints but no solutions.”
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