"So Many Towns, So Many Temptations"
- J.A.I.L. News Journal
Los Angeles, California March 1, 2005
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______________________________________________________The above is the title of an exposure article by Ronald Smothers about a Community Redevelopment Agencies. Community Redevelopment Agencies have a propensity to corruption, bribery and kick-backs involving land. The latest Los Angeles County Grand Jury Report outlines their concerns about the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency, and every year the Grand Jury receives more complaints calling for Grand Jury investigations into the CRA's affairs.But the same is true all over the nation where there exists Community Redevelopment Agencies. For instance, in the report below, "So Many Towns, So Many Temptations" we have a current account in New Jersey where the FBI conducted mass arrests of city officials caught in land redevelopment scams, including a number of city board members and three different city mayors.February 27, 2005So Many Towns, So Many TemptationsBy RONALD SMOTHERS
REEHOLD, N.J., Feb. 24 - Three years ago, State Senator Ellen Karcher got a rare, inside glimpse of the kind of hardball political corruption that investigators have said plagues Monmouth County. As a young Marlboro Township Council Member, she ran up against a local contractor who, she said, threatened her and attempted to bribe her because of her persistent public questioning of his and others' plans to redevelop a 62-acre airport there.
First she got a letter from one of the principals in the redevelopment consortium, offering her and her husband plots at a cemetery he owned, she said. Then someone vandalized a fish pond in her backyard that she had built as a memorial to her late father, Alan Karcher, a former speaker of the State Assembly. Finally, in a meeting at a restaurant with one of the contractors, she was offered $150,000, "to further her political career" if she would re-evaluate her stand on the redevelopment plan.
But by this time Ms. Karcher had contacted local agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Red Bank who had been investigating corruption in the county and who had asked her to wear a wire to the restaurant meeting. Shortly afterward, the contractor was indicted on federal bribery charges and it was revealed that three of the town's planning board members who had approved the planned construction held jobs in businesses owned by one of the developers.
"This whole thing came right into my kitchen," said Ms. Karcher, a petite, dark-haired academic and housewife who hardly looks the part of an undercover agent and whose role in secretly recording the conversations that led to the indictments became public only two weeks ago in a political newsletter.
In an interview in her district office here, Ms. Karcher, a Democrat, said: "I have a family and three kids like so many of my neighbors, and we should not be subsidizing political corruption with our tax dollars. But the thing that really annoyed me was the vandalism of my Alan Karcher memorial fish pond. I felt violated."
The incident speaks to a deep vein of corruption in some parts of Monmouth County, a vein that federal investigators mined once again last week when they arrested 11 officials, including three mayors, on charges that they had accepted envelopes of cash in exchange for promising to help a contractor (who was working with investigators) get publicly financed contracts. .....
"And these towns are not going to be gentrified," Mr. Hughes said. "The opportunities for these towns are limited and when you are a mature municipality your expenses continue to grow."
As a result, said Mr. Hughes and others, some of these areas are desperate for any development. It perhaps follows that its officials are equally desperate for a share in the bounty that surrounds them, regardless of how it arrives. Their politics are byzantine and almost incestuous - two of the arrested mayors are cousins - and highly stratified, said Jim Persell, a local Republican activist and publisher of a weekly paper in Middletown.
The Balkanization and concentration of political power in Monmouth, he said, reminds him more and more of his home, Hudson County, the archetype of New Jersey political corruption.
"It is about patronage, alliances and pay-to-play streams," he said.
Kathy Shaw, a Keyport resident whose mayor, John Merla, was among those arrested, sat in Espresso Joe's coffeehouse recently, lamenting the blow that the charges against the mayor have dealt to the borough and its 7,800 residents. She is a consultant to the Keyport Business Alliance, which Mr. Merla avidly supported, as well as a consultant to similar groups in Hazlet and Freehold.
Change comes slowly to such towns, she said, noting that it was not until 1999, well after money to beautify and market flagging downtowns became widely available, that local officials finally brought themselves to take advantage of it. ....
According to Ingrid Reed of the Eagleton Institute's New Jersey Project, recent polls show growing concern among voters about ethics among politicians. These days, it is higher on the worry list than perennial concerns like high property taxes. There is a sense that "pay to play, bribery and self interest trumps public service," she said. In the public's mind, the "casual and informal" political structures of some of the county's towns are seen more and more to be like the big-city political organizations in places like Irvington, Newark and Hoboken.
Where there is honesty and integrity in the courts, all propensity of corruption in the politicians are suppressed. However, the opposite is just as true. Where the courts are corrupt, you can rest assures that so will also be the politicians, for corrupt judges cover for corrupt politicians - always has, and always will. Thus is a case for how passage of J.A.I.L. will also clean up corrupt politicians. -Ron Branson
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