By Art Gallagher
On Wednesday I made the casethat the Neptune Nudniks are unfair, biased, dishonest and incompetent based upon the amount of ink that gave the news of Mayor Gerry Scharfenberger’s job as Director of the Office for Planning Advocacy and the fact that he did not want his job to be an issue in his reelection campaign, vis-à-vis other stories of more consequence that they chose to ignore or bury.
Today I make the case that the APP’s coverage of the Scharfenberger story itself is unfair, biased, dishonest and incompetent.
In Kevin Penton’s article, Planners question credentials of Middletown committeeman coordinating N.J. policy,
and in the editorial the same daythe nudniks question Scharfenberger’s qualifications for the Director of the Office of Planning Advocacy job because he is not a certified planner. Had they done their homework, rather than go out and seek quotes from representatives of special interests, they would know that the job is an executive/administrative job, not a planning job. ” Says who?,” you might ask. Governor Jim Florio’s Attorney General’s Office. If I can find that information, why didn’t the Asbury Park Press, you should ask.
Not in the job three months yet, Scharfenberger has already saved the State $386,000, more that his annual salary X 4, according to the APP’s own account. Why are they questioning Gerry’s qualifications?
In their editorial on the matter, the nudniks argue that Governor Christie is not serious about eliminate double dipping. They use Scharfenberger’s appointment and Jackson Mayor Mike Reina’s appointment to a job at the Department of Transportation as examples. To use the APP’s own words, they are being “disingenuous at best and downright dishonest at worst.” It is also possible that they are just plain incompetent. I don’t know which is worse, disingenuousness or incompetent…you decide.
Christie’s proposed reforms call for the end of dual office holding, i.e. the same person holding two elected offices AND prohibition of one person earning more than one government salary. Christie was clear on the campaign trail last year and has been clear in town hall meetings this year that he has no problem with government employees serving their communities in elected office, so long as they do so as volunteers. Scharfenberger was a volunteer as a member of the Middletown Township Committee before he got his new appointment. Reina gave up his salary as Mayor of Jackson after he was appointed to his job at DOT. (Though, to the APP’s credit, Reina did not give up his Jackson salary until after the nudniks brought it up…more on that and the culture of trough swillers in a soon to follow post about “greed and arrogance”).
There is no question that Scharfenberger did not want his new job to be an issue in the Middletown campaign. The APP say their reporter asked Gerry about his employer and he didn’t mention it. Scharfenberger denies this and Penton, the APP reporter who wrote two articles about the job since the election has not responded to inquiries from MMM. I believe Gerry because he was honest with me when I asked him specifically about the job over the summer. Penton either asked the wrong question or is being disingenuous at best in his reporting.
The APP says Scharfenberger not announcing the job with great fanfare was mendacity. I say it was clever and good politics. The APP’s coverage of the story and the Middletown Democrats reaction to it, since I broke it, demonstrates that Scharfenberger’s political instincts were spot on. The Dems, and the APP at their behest, have distorted the issue and misreported the facts. To his credit, Sean Byrnes, Scharfenberger’s opponent in the election told The Independent that the issue of Gerry’s job would not have changed the outcome of the election, “its not a 2000 vote issue,” Byrnes said. However, as we have seen since I broke the news of the job, the issue would have changed the tenor of the Middletown campaign. The Dems and the APP would have very likely distorted the issue, like they have since, and made the campaign about Gerry’s job, rather than about the issues pertinent to Middletown.
The nudniks conclude their editorial with a call for Scharfenberger to resign one of his positions or for Christie to either insist upon a resignation or explain why he has changed his thinking on public servants holding more than one job. That was never Christie’s thinking, and the nudniks call for Gerry’s resignation from one of the jobs is thoughtless and irresponsible given his record in Middletown and his performance in the new job so far.
Scharfenberger won re-election by a large plurality in a year with strong anti-incumbent sentiment and the local Democrats conducting a yearlong smear campaign that included stealing, smashing and defacing his campaign signs. The reason he won so big? He is clearly one of the best, most effective elected officials in the state. The residents admire his down to earth, no nonsense style and his reputation for personally contacting people who call or write to his office. Under his leadership, Middletown has one of the lowest municipal tax rates in the region, one of the smallest work forces per capita and most importantly, one of the lowest spending per capita in the state. Middletown has also been named one of the top 100 places to live in the country by Money Magazine for three years in a row of eligibility. His innovative ideas include devising one of the first municipal Green Initiatives in the state and the first municipal Veterans Affairs Committee in the state. He was also the first mayor in the state to sign his town up for the Adopt-A-Unit program, which collected tons of supplies and well wishes to our troops overseas. He has also been a tireless advocate on behalf of Middletown in fighting COAH, unfunded mandates, and excessive union contracts, among other harmful policies.
Scharfenberger is also a career volunteer who currently serves on the Middletown Landmarks Commission, the Open Space Committee, the Middletown Drug and Alcohol Alliance, and the Monmouth County Greenhouse Gas Reduction Committee. He even serves on the Township Committee as a volunteer, foregoing his salary out of respect for the taxpayers. He was recognized for his service by the Northern Monmouth Chamber of Commerce with the Public Servant of the Year award in 2009, an honor given to Governor Christie in 2008 and Lt. Governor Guadagno in 2010.
His appointment to the position of Director of the Office For Planning Advocacy (OPA) was a brilliant move on the part of the Christie Administration. Scharfenberger brings a unique combination of municipal and professional experience to the position. Prior to serving on the Township Committee, he served on the Zoning Board of Adjustment and has served as a Landmarks Commissioner for over 14 years. As mayor, he has been involved in several major redevelopment, brownfields mitigation and development projects. He was also integral in the aquaculture study to revitalize the Bayshore and the NPP grant to revitalize North Middletown. Professionally, he is a Ph.D. with numerous professional publications who has worked on hundreds of land use projects in every county in the state for such diverse entities as the NJDOT, NPS, NJDEP, SCC, NJ Transit and dozens of private organizations. Of the past 10 directors of the OPA, Scharfenberger’s overall credentials put him at or near the top. Even with his state position, he has shown his consideration for the taxpayers of New Jersey by waiving taxpayer funded health benefits and retaining his own at a cost of $6,000 per year. He has also enrolled in the deferred compensation program, the state’s 401K which he contributes to himself.
This is who the APP wants to drive out of public service.