Blog for Highland Park

Welcome to the Blog for Highland Park, a weblog chronicling events in Highland Park, NJ from an alternative perspective to the often one-sided slant of the official borough newsletter.

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Location: Highland Park, New Jersey, United States

I am a freelance writer and community activist who has worked on many progressive and Democratic political campaigns over the last 25 plus years and a lifelong resident of Highland Park, NJ. I have a BA in Journalism from Rutgers University, an MA in Middle East Studies from Harvard University, and an MEd in English Education from Rutgers Graduate School of Education. An enthusiastic amateur astronomer, I have just completed Swinburne University Astronomy Online's Graduate Certificate of Science in astronomy and am pursuing a Masters of Science in astronomy at Swinburne. I am also an actress with experience in theatre and film and have written a full length play. I am currently working full time on a book "The Little Planet That Would Not Die: Pluto's Story."

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Feed the People, Not the Propaganda Machine

Our country is in the midst of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, but you would never know it from the spending habits of the mayor and council. While Highland Park, like all New Jersey municipalities, faces potentially staggering losses in state aid next year, the administration continues its frivolous spending as if nothing is wrong. The latest bit of frivolous spending, an insult to all in this town who are struggling to meet their basic needs, is the borough-subsidized Quarterly, the signature promotional of the Meryl political machine, printed and mailed to all residents at taxpayers' expense.

This so-called borough newsletter misleadingly refers to itself as "the official newspaper of Highland Park." Obviously, borough officials do not know the meaning of the term "official newspaper." It is a very specific term and refers to the private newspaper or newspapers in which a town places its legal advertisements--not to a newsletter that is government run.

The Quarterly is produced by a private firm, Jaffe Communications, which I have referred to in previous blog posts. Through having Jaffe print the newsletter, the borough is effectively subsidizing this private company which happens to have political connections with the Democratic machine throughout New Jersey. Jaffe solicits ads for the paper from local businesses and then gets another windfall in being paid $2,500 by the borough to write the articles for the newsletter.

This is clearly a win-win situation for Jaffe Communications, a firm run by Jonathan Jaffe, a man who has pioneered a trend of government run newspapers throughout the state. Interestingly, his first contact with Highland Park was a meeting with the mayor several years ago at a League of Municipalities convention. Is his being awarded this opportunity political? Well, consider the fact that he has publicly expressed his "admiration" for the smear campaign that initially got Mayor Frank elected in 1999.

The very thought of government run newspapers, no matter what government is doing the running, is chilling. This practice is common in countries like China, which has an official party-run newspaper. It was done in the old Soviet Union, in totalitarian states on both the political right and left. It is not in any way appropriate for American democracy. A free press independent of all government sources was viewed as critical from day one by our Founding Fathers more than two centuries ago. One might wonder what they would think about Jaffe-style government run publications that pass themselves off as "newspapers."

Frank says the ads Jaffe sells cover the cost of producing the newsletter but leaves out the fact that advertising revenue does not in fact cover the whole cost of it and that the taxpayers of Highland Park are effectively subsidizing a private company through direct payment and revenue from these ads.

This past summer, I submitted an OPRA request for copies of all vouchers for the Quarterly from 2008. I was given the voucher for the winter issue, for which the borough paid the usual $2,500, but was told the borough did not yet have the voucher for the spring issue. Keep in mind this is at least three months after the spring issue was produced and mailed.

Why is the borough's spending on the Quarterly such a mystery? Are we still spending $2,500 per issue, or has the amount gone up with the current increase in the price of printing? What is the administration hiding by not disclosing its expenditures on this taxpayer funded enterprise?

Just this week, a record 93 borough residents sought help from our local Food Pantry. We are not a wealthy town, and as everywhere in the state and country, our residents are being hit with job losses, foreclosures, and staggering cost of living increases. Interestingly, East Brunswick's mayor and council recognized this fact and ended a similar agreement with Jaffe Communications for printing a town newsletter. You can read more about East Brunswick's decision to be fiscally responsible, in such stark contrast to the attitude and actions of our own administration, here:

An expenditure of $2,500 may not sound like much, but that amount could feed a lot of people or help those in emergency financial situations. It could be part of an effort by the borough to help Elijah's Promise, a struggling soup kitchen in New Brunswick. The money local businesses pay for these ads could go toward similar assistance programs for borough residents in need.

We don't need to spend taxpayers' money to send every resident pictures of smiling council members posing with the residents upon whom they look with such contempt.

In considering the mayor's fiscal irresponsibility, one cannot help but evoke the image of George W. Bush, who for most of this year kept on insisting, in spite of all the signs pointing to the contrary, that the economy is fine; there is no recession; prosperity is just around the corner, and all we need to do is stop worrying.

We all know the results of that brand of "leadership." Let's make our voices heard through letters to the editor, speaking up at council meetings, and every public venue possible that the time for frivolous wasting of money on items like PR for local politicians is past.