HILLSIDE — A group masquerading as concerned taxpayers of Hillside picketed in front of Union County Improvement Authority Executive Director Charlotte DeFilippo’s house last week, chanting and carrying signs protesting that she will be paid $600 a day until Aug. 1.
Less than 15 picketers ended up walking back and forth in front of and along side of DeFilippo’s home on King Street shortly after 4 p.m. on May 15, well over an hour after the event was supposed to start.
Although when Mayor Joe Menza called LocalSource to promote the protest he claimed the demonstrators would be irate taxpayers from Hillside, it turned out this was not entirely true, if at all.
Actually, it was a Cranford-based group of citizen activists heavily involved with the Union County Watchdog Association that marched up and down in front of DeFilippo’s Hillside home in the late afternoon. The event, seemingly orchestrated by UCWA founder and president, Tina Renna, was also video taped for the County Watchdog website, the blog for the Union county Watchdog Association.
Since 2005, the UCWA has been a thorn in the side of county officials, continually posting blogs and investigative articles involving issues the county has either failed to address or kept under wraps.
Renna stood across the street from DeFilippo’s modest two-story corner home with Menza, snapping pictures, while a man with a bullhorn encouraged picketers to yell “$600 a day, we won’t pay.”
The demonstrators carried signs that pointed out, among other things, “Charlotte and Ray — Equal Political Corruption,” “Disgusting and Disgraceful Charlotte,” and “Lesniak the Liar.”
There was no visible sign at the Dutch Colonial style home with drawn shades that the executive director was home, other than a vehicle parked along the side street with a handicap placard hanging from the rear view mirror.
Vehicles traveling up busy King Street during the commuting hour slowed to see what the disturbance was about, while Renna prepped to tape an interview with Menza.
Prior to interviewing the Hillside mayor, though, Renna, microphone in hand, brought up that demonstrators were “citizen activists” from County Watchdog, and explained why they were protesting.
“Protesters have taken offense to the UCIA executive director earning $600 a day until Aug. 1,” Renna said, pointing out something viewers might not notice.
“She claims she is handicapped but there is no handicapped accessibility to her home,” the activist blogger added.
Renna then moved on to interview Menza, asking why the demonstration was taking place.
“This is about Charlotte DeFilippo hanging on for dear life when in fact she should have resigned quite a long time ago,” said Menza, referring to the fact that the UCIA executive director’s last day was not until Aug. 1.
“She is getting seven more paychecks, when she has bilked the county and taxpayers of Hillside for enough money,” the mayor added.
Renna then brought up the Regular Democratic party campaign signs on DeFilippo’s front lawn, asking Menza if it was “legal” to run a campaign “where you conduct the people’s business.”
“No it is not,” he said, pointing out that the group was not picketing the executive director’s home, but rather “her office.”
Menza’s comment directly referred to the fact that DeFilippo, who earns $160,000 annually, was given permission by the UCIA board and Union County Freeholder Board to work from home due to a handicap that limits her mobility.
“We citizen watchdogs have seen this before,” Renna responded, moving on with Menza to encourage the handful of demonstrators to keep moving and shout louder.
Although DeFilippo did not return calls to LocalSource, those who work with the executive director were appalled by the picketing.
“I can’t believe they would do something like this at her home,” said one county employee who sits on the UCIA board. “She is leaving. Why are they rubbing salt in her wounds?”
Another, reached Thursday, merely said “it’s disgraceful the mayor of Hillside is involved in this. He should not have been there.”
Menza, who is running for another five-year stint as mayor, smiled and waved at drivers as they rode slowly by trying to see what was going on.
Neighbors living in the area, who preferred their names not be used, said they were not upset by the picketing, just confused.
“What is this about? Who are they talking about?” said one man, while a young mother pushing a baby carriage said the same.
Otto Smith, a lifelong resident of Hillside, took things in stride as he made his way up the block on his ritual pre-dinner walk.
“Well, what can you say except these picketers have the right to demonstrate if they are not happy with what is going on. But to me, it just isn’t clear who Charlotte and Ray are,” the resident said, adding as he walked away “This is what America is all about. The freedom to voice our opinion.”
After about an hour of demonstrating, the contingent of citizen activists from Cranford quickly departed and King Street went
back to the quiet neighborhood it was before the staged event began.