Watchdog Targets Arts Center

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UNION COUNTY- The Union County Watchdog Association (UCWA) has filed a law suit in Union County Superior Court asking the court to find that the Union County Performing Arts Center (UCPAC) is a public agency subject to the Open Public Records Act (OPRA).

The UCPAC has fallen into the UCWA sites because of its involvement with the county-run Musicfest.

The UCWA maintains that the UCPAC became a public resource when the county purchased the Rahway building and spent millions of public dollars into it for renovations. The government continues to invest tax funds into upgrades and group the claims a one dollar annual lease proves that Union County is the de facto controller and owner of UCPAC.

The group cited a July 7 memo to the deputy county manager and freeholder chairwoman, in which former County Manager George Devanney recused himself from any matters pertaiing to the Arts Center in order to avoide a conflict of interest.

“It is clear that without access to information contained in the records of the UCPAC citizens cannot monitor the operations of our Union County government or hold public officials accountable for their actions and the expenditure of our tax dollars” said Tina Renna, president of the UCWA.

On Oct. 24, Renna submitted an OPRA request on behalf of the UCWA for copies of “All contracts for acts hired for the Union County 2010 and 2011 Musicfest” and the five most recent “meeting minutes available for the Union County Performing Arts Center Board of Directors.”

On Nov. 1, UCPAC, through Executive Director Samson Steinman, a Rahway councilman, denied access to the requested records by claiming that the UCPAC is not subject to public dislosure laws.

According to a report by the Union County Prosecutor’s Office, UCPAC is a non-profit charitable corporation that originally opened on Oct. 16, 1928, as the Rahway Theater. After it fell into disrepair, Union County paid for a $6.2 million renovation and expansion of the theatre, which was completed in 2007. Union County also purchased the theatre for $1.3 million and leased it back to UCPAC for the nominal amount of $1 per year. Finally, it was renamed the “Union County Performing Arts Center” in 1985 after the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders passed a resolution officially renaming it.

 


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