Letter to the editor – By Frank Masciocchi (R) and Anna Evans (D), Hainesport
The latest BCT article presents some of the facts and history in what it calls the “battle over a disparity in sewer rates, bills, fees and representation on the MHMUA.” But the battle is a recent one, and it is one that centers around those who sit on its Commission and those who appoint them…and those who influence those who appoint them.
Towards the end of public comment, Commissioner Christopher Banks accused Westampton Deputy Mayor Abraham Lopez, who made many strong comments, of having “some sort of agenda.” Anna Evans, Democrat candidate for Hainesport Township Committee, protested: “This isn’t about Democrat or Republican. It’s about people” (Banks agreed).
The Mt. Holly Township Council and the MHMUA Commissioners would like to frame the debate in terms of Republicans versus Democrats. This is something that is supposedly driven by the re-election ambitions of Westampton’s Deputy Mayor Lopez and Lumberton’s Mayor Sean Earlen, and the re-election bid of Hainesport Mayor Tony Porto [Editor’s note: Earlen is up for reelection in 2017. Lopez is up for reelecton in 2018]. All three are Republicans who have publicly complained to the MHMUA about its rising rates. This is in contrast with the fact that the Mt. Holly Council is under Democratic control, making this partisan narrative convenient.
But it is a false narrative that ignores the roomful of residents who came out last Thursday, and the thousands of residents from around the region, people of all political stripes, who have concerns about the 40% increase in rates over the last three years.
The concerns are many. Earlen complained that his letters to the commission were left unanswered for more than a year, and that “consumers and residents should not have to do an OPRA request to understand [the] facts.” Both Lopez and Earlen complained, despite MHMUA bylaws requiring each town be consulted before each new budget, that no communication has ever been made in recent years.
Another major concern is the new $2.25 postage and handling fee, something which caught even some MUA commissioners by surprise. The commission said the fee was always there but was not separately listed in older bills. Hainesport Republican Ted Costa asked the commission if the reason for raising rates was because they happen to be “a monopolistic enterprise.” Costa’s comment reflected the sentiments of numerous members of the public, complaining that the MUA takes advantage of non-Mt. Holly residents (who pay significantly higher rates) “because they can.” Hainesport Deputy Mayor Frank Masciocchi questioned the tone of the meeting by saying, “Are we here to make comments and ask questions or are we here to be put on trial?”
Despite his absence, former MHMUA Commissioner Jason R. Carty loomed large over the hearing. Carty was appointed to the MHMUA in April of 2011, and resigned in December of 2014. His resignation was only weeks after voting to appoint Robert Maybury to MHMUA Executive Director, and less than a week before Maybury, in his role as Westampton Councilman, voted to appoint Carty to Fire Chief of Westampton. Both of these positions pay six figures.
Carty also supported the 2011 and 2012 campaigns of Richard DiFolco for Mt. Holly Town Council. DiFolco ran successfully as a Democrat in November 2016, despite a lengthy history with the Republican Party, and initiated the switch from nonpartisan to partisan elections. Since 2012 DiFolco has run with Jason Jones and Lew Brown, whose campaigns were also supported by Carty. Furthermore, Carty is suspected of being the anonymous figure behind several extremely negative political pages on Facebook and Burlington County Times commenting accounts.
MHMUA Commissioners are appointed each February on a rolling basis by the Mt. Holly Township Council. From November 2012, DiFolco, Jones and Brown effectively controlled the Township Council, and thus the MHMUA pick. The Township Council re-appointed Jules Thiessen in February 2013. (The first rate increase was passed in June 2013 by Commissioners Carty, Edwards, Thiessen, Silcox and Perinchief.)
In 2014, Mt. Holly Township Council decided they should have an actual Council member on the MHMUA, appointing Jason Jones. (The second rate increase was passed in June 2014 by Commissioners Carty, Jones, Thiessen, Silcox and Perinchief.) Jules Thiessen won election to Mt. Holly Township Council in November 2014, and since then two elected council officials have also been MHMUA Commissioners.
In February 2015 Mt. Holly Township Council appointed Joshua Brown, son of Mt. Holly Councilman Lew Brown, to the MHMUA. Christopher Banks replaced Commissioner Perinchief upon her resignation in May 2015. (The third rate increase was passed by Commissioners Jones, Silcox, Thiessen, Brown and Banks in June 2015. The fourth rate increase was passed by the same Commissioners in June 2016.) Lumberton resident Gina LaPlaca replaced Brown in 2017 upon his appointment as Mt. Holly Township Manager (where his father still serves).
On Thursday, Lopez pushed back against the MHMUA appointment system. “We should be reviewing resumes prior to you selecting them,” he said. “The reason we do that is to prevent cronyism. You shouldn’t be self-watching yourself.” A resident then questioned LaPlaca’s appointment, to which LaPlaca responded, “I sent in a public application. I was not hand-picked.” She left out the fact that she has been in a relationship with Jason Carty for several years.
In August 2013 the MHMUA minutes state that “the amount appropriated to Mt. Holly Township has increased $125,000.00 taking the line item from $540,150.00 to $665,150.00. Deputy Director of Finance and Administration, Giordano, stated the recent rate increase will cover the additional appropriation.” It is clearly not in the Township’s financial interests to include representatives from other towns on the MHMUA.
Editor’s note: In at least June of 2017, Carty was an administrator of the official Costa & Schneider Facebook page.