UNION COUNTY — A Superior Court judge may have stopped the prosecutor from subpoenaing activist Tina Renna’s list of county employees who allegedly took generators home after superstorm Sandy, but others are very willing to hand over names.
Over the last few weeks, sources have provided LocalSource with the names of at least ten county employees who allegedly took home generators for personal use, and LocalSource has now learned that a list of people who allegedly took home generators was anonymously mailed to multiple county offices. LocalSource did not receive the letter.
But, because there has been no proof thus far that these employees actually took home county-owned generators valued between $8,000 and $15,000, LocalSource opted not to publish the names at this time, pending an official investigation.
Details involving this list, though, remained sketchy. For example, some sources said there were as many as 30 names, while other sources claimed there were only 16.
One thing is for sure, though. The list does exist, and Union County Prosecutor Ted Romankow’s office is investigating.
The prosecutor confirmed late last week and again on Tuesday that his office was in receipt of an anonymous letter that arrived last week with names on it. And while he did not confirm how many names were on the list, he did validate that many were the same as those which were received by LocalSource.
Other sources said that because many of the names of these employees are high ranking public safety and emergency management personnel, they are unsure if those involved would be punished or even reprimanded.
The high ranking department heads and employees named work in the Department of Public Safety, including Division of Police, Sheriff’s office, Division of Facilities Management, and Administrative services.
The prosecutor said his office will investigate each of the county employees named, but admitted this case is not easy to wrap up.
“We were nearing the end of our investigation, but then we received additional names anonymously,” said Romankow, adding that some are county employees, while others are not.
“We are continuing to investigate this, but as we get names it is prolonging things,” the prosecutor said.
Many of the names include high ranking law enforcement and emergency management department heads.
“Generatorgate” first surfaced at the end of November when Renna wrote on her blog, County Watchers, that she had a list of 16 to 20 names of county employees who took home generators. Renna proceeded to use her blog to blast the prosecutor’s office for dragging their feet on the inquiry, which was ordered by the Union County Freeholder board and county manager Al Faella.
After requesting, without luck, to get Renna to hand over the names, Union County Prosecutor Ted Romankow subpoenaed the Cranford resident to come before a grand jury and reveal the names. In turn, Renna hired an attorney who filed a court motion to quash the subpoena, using the New Jersey Newsperson’s Shield Law, one of the strongest in the nation.
What followed was several hearings, one in which Renna spent two days on the stand defending her role as a journalist.
In the end, the activist and blogger, who has been president of the Union County Watchdog Association since 2005, was granted protection in April under the Shield Law by Superior Court Judge Karen Cassidy.
Since then Romankow decided not to appeal the decision and press on with the inquiry he began earlier this year. The decision, though, did not come without bitterness.
“All we wanted were the names, if she had them. We never sought her sources. We could care less who her sources are. We care about solving crime. That is our sworn duty,” the prosecutor said in early May.
Although Romankow said his office was conducting themselves the same as in nearly every investigation they conduct and that this included asking citizens to be responsible enough to provide information regarding a crime, other citizens felt the inquiry would not result in the actual offenders being apprehended.
Several of these citizen sources that called LocalSource admitted they work for the county and have first hand knowledge about what took place immediately following superstorm Sandy.
In fact, they maintained the employees who took home the county-owned property are attempting to cover up the incident because the list of offenders goes high up in the law enforcement employee roster.
These sources also indicated that they fear the high ranking offenders will excuse their personal use of county generators under the guise of “humanitarian” efforts immediately following the storm.
For instance, according to one source, one high ranking department head said he took home a generator to help an elderly neighbor who was left without electricity or heat.
But another source said one county employee took a generator to the Jersey Shore to remedy his flooded shore house.
Many of the generators in question cannot be moved without hauling them on a trailer and cost as much as $15,000. And while many residents — elderly and children included — were without power for over a week, the list, and sources, allege many people in the county were busy using the county-owned property to comfort themselves.
According to Romankow, after his investigation into the issue is completed, it then will be sent down to the State Attorney General’s Office for review. But the prosecutor expected that the entire issue would be sent back to county administration to be handled.