UCIA continues to answer questions from ‘Local’ critic

UNION COUNTY — Local Finance Board Chairman Tom Neff is not happy with Union County Improvement Authority Executive Director Charlotte DeFilippo and he is not backing down.

However, UCIA Legal Council Jonathan Williams extended an olive branch last week in an attempt to smooth out any roadblocks that could stall a $20 million project at Union County College.

But, despite Williams explaining that DeFilippo works very hard and the projects she has tackled over the years would not have been completed without her being “hands on,” Neff was having none of it.

Neff’s response, sent April 18, obtained by LocalSource Friday, was pointed and less than consolatory.

Taking front and center among his concerns was the fact that DeFilippo, 67, was being paid an “outrageous” $160,000 annual salary, which included benefits and free reign to work from home. This continued to be a major problem for Neff, along with why the UCIA executive director was speaking through an attorney.

“It is regrettable that the executive director of the UCIA apparently felt it was appropriate to have authority activities and qualifications for employment explained by an attorney on her behalf,” Neff said in his response letter. He also took a shot at DeFilippo.

“Surely, an executive director as richly compensated as the executive director of the UCIA can express her qualifications without paying an attorney to do so on her behalf,” Neff added.

LocalSource obtained a copy of the letter Williams sent April 16 to the Local Finance Board, requesting a private meeting with Neff to discuss any remaining concerns he harbored about DeFilippo.

“I believe that the concerns expressed by Chairman Neff can be addressed and he has indicated that he will try his best ‘to keep an open mind.’”

Williams went on to explain the UCIA “does far more on each of its projects than merely providing a conduit for financing,” or supervising a staff of two.

The UCIA legal counsel also noted that under the authority’s model, DeFilippo and the authority entered into shared service agreements to finance, supervise professionals, and prepare public bid specifications on projects.

In addition, Williams said the UCIA also handled all public bidding in accordance with the law, supervised construction management as well as construction, obtained all necessary local and regulatory approvals and produced an end result which has “consistently been on schedule and under budget.”

Williams again listed projects the UCIA has completed including a 100,000-square-foot building in Plainfield, which, he said, required special legislation and Supreme Court of New Jersey approval in order to be completed.

Also brought up was a new juvenile detention facility, built at the direction of the State of New Jersey Commission on Juvenile Justice. This project, Williams pointed out, was awarded environmental and design awards in a national completion by the American Institute of Architects.
Another project, one that received the 2013 Project of Distinction from the Solar Energy Industries Association, was the installation of 31 solar panel arrays in 15 Union County municipalities. This particular project, he added, did not cost individual towns a dime.
Williams stressed that DeFilippo conducts regular meetings with her staff, as well as professionals, to ensure they are publically bid and completed with “fiscally prudent results.”

“Each of these projects has included a financial component,” the UCIA general counsel said. He admitted, though, that while the authority does charge financing fees to recoup administrative costs, he explained that these costs are not fees attributed just to “conduit financing” but rather to help pay for administration costs associated with completing projects.
Williams also brought up the touchy subject of DeFilippo working at home.

“All of her hours are accounted for in writing and she reports to her board of commissioners on a regular basis,” the UCIA legal counsel said, adding the executive director is subject to an annual review and yearly renewal of her five-year contract.

Williams did not, however, inform Neff that the UCIA board is comprised of members of the Union County Democratic party or that DeFilippo is the chairman of that political party. The question of whether DeFilippo is compensated for unused sick and vacation time also hung heavy in the air. Williams said the UCIA executive director “is not compensated for unused sick leave and will not be compensated for accumulated sick leave any differently than other county employees.”

Williams did not, though, explain exactly what type of benefits county employees receive.
Williams additionally mentioned that DeFilippo has 33 years of experience in the public sector, citing, for example, that she had served as a municipal clerk, municipal treasurer, municipal administrator and Union County Freeholder.

Ironically, the UCIA executive director actually served as a member on the Local Finance Board, Williams said.
In closing, Williams said the UCIA model is authorized by New Jersey State Statute, providing a “true service to participating public entities.”

“The authority and Charlotte DeFilippo are rightfully proud of the results achieved to date and look forward to future appearances before the LFB in order to receive a positive endorsement for this and future projects,” the UCIA general counsel said.
Williams, who in 2012 made in excess of $1 million from the UCIA, handles all the legal issues for this entity.
Neff’s response letter addressed multiple issues, including that the purpose for Williams being there was about financing a Union County College improvement project, not discussing DeFilippo.

The LFB chairman pointed out that while Williams may have had issues with what took place at the April 10 meeting, the LFB was doing their job by addressing “overall financing” aspects. That, he said, included looking at what the UCIA executive director earned annually.

“As you are no doubt aware, the Local Authorities Fiscal Control Law generally requires local finance boards to review ‘project findings’ that are the subject of a proposed bond ordinance,” Neff explained, adding that in the course of this review the LFB is statutorily required to give consideration to, among other things, “charges proposed by the authority.”

Neff said questions Williams posed in his reference to his letter related directly to UCIA charges “embedded within the project financing.” The LFB board, he added, therefore was required by law to review this particular information.

“So please do not misinterpret the statement you referenced, as suggesting I believe that my concerns about authority charges were outside the LFB’s purview,” Neff added.

“To the contrary, the questions and concerns I stated after the referenced remark were directly related to the proposed project financing if not the proposed facility,” the LFB chairman added.

Neff also was quite concerned that there were things missing from information the UCIA should have provided as a matter of course when appearing before the LFB.

Of particular concern was an “appendix” describing the college project in detail.
He explained that without this appendix, which contained cost estimates and adequate disclosure of the proposed facility, the LFB could not possibly have conducted a thorough review of the facility at the April 10 meeting.

“That is why I requested this information be provided to the LFB prior to its May meeting,” he added.
Neff did agree to meet with the UCIA staff and representatives, as requested by Williams, but admitted such a meeting would not be productive without all the information he requested from the UCIA.

Neff ended his missive noting that he was “unconvinced” DeFilippo’s contract package paid for by taxpayers and college students “is even remotely close to reasonable.”

He did say the least of his concerns was that DeFilippo worked from home with the blessing of the county. However, he did say that audit questions from 2009, 2010 and 2011 failed to address any of his issues.