County Okays Inmate Treatment Prog., Hears Wrongful-Termination Claim

By JESSE WINTER
For Union County HAWK

COUNTY — The county commissioners passed two big-ticket resolutions during their September 23 meeting and heard from the wife of a recently-terminated Union County Improvement Authority employee.

The first resolution, which was introduced to the commissioners board during the agenda-setting meeting by County Sheriff Peter Corvelli, authorizes Union County to enter into a contract with Hudson County. The agreement approves the transfer of Union County inmates suffering from substance-abuse problems at Newark’s Essex County-Delaney Hall Detention Facility to Hudson County for what the resolution describes as a “comprehensive inmate substance-abuse treatment and reentry services program.”

The contract, which is not to exceed $2.625 million, will take effect on Friday, October 1.

Chairman Al Mirabella, Vice Chair Rebecca Williams and Commissioners Angela Garretson, Sergio Granados, Christopher Hudak, Bette Jane Kowalski, Lourdes Leon and Kimberly Palmieri-Mouded all voted in favor of the measure. Commissioner Andrea Staten was absent.

“We’ve decided to transfer our drug- and alcohol-rehabilitation inmates to Hudson [County], out of Delaney Hall, which is in Newark,” said Sheriff Corvelli. “They offer an array of services Delaney Hall did not.”

These services include “a reentry program” and helping “the inmates with Medicaid, schooling, job placement,” noted Sheriff Corvelli. “It’s just a far better program, in our opinion, that will help these men and women get back on their feet after they serve their time.”

The passage of the new agreement between Union and Hudson counties comes after Union County shut down its jail on July 1. Prior to its closure, Union County entered into a shared-services agreement with Essex County to house the county’s inmates.

As of October 1, Union County will be sending its inmates to both Essex and Hudson counties. The Union County Correctional Facility still functions as an “intake hub and temporary detention facility,” according to a county statement released on July 1.

In other business, all attending members voted to authorize contracts to Workforce Advantage and Union County College to provide “Workfirst New Jersey services to clients enrolled in the program from July 1, 2021 through July 30, 2022,” according to the resolution. The amount is not to exceed $953,000, with Workforce Advantage and Union County College each receiving $476,737.

According to the state’s Department of Human Services, Division of Family Development, the Workfirst New Jersey program, “emphasizes work as the first step toward building a new life and a brighter future.” The goal of the program, according to the state, “is to help people get off welfare, secure employment and become self-sufficient, through job training, education and work activities.”

WorkForce New Jersey also “provides temporary cash assistance and many other support services to families through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.” Moreover, the website explains that, “individuals and couples with no dependent children” are eligible for the General Assistance (GA) program.

“How many people did this impact and how many people do you foresee with this next round of dollars?” asked Commissioner Garretson ahead of the resolution’s vote.

“I can’t give you a number because it’s all really dependent on whether this becomes mandated once again,” said Deputy County Manager Amy Crisp Wagner.

Ms. Wagner explained that, since the pandemic, “there’s been a suspension on the requirement for people that are in the welfare system to participate in any work activities,” with work activities including “résumé writing, job training,” and earning one’s GED, along with a “myriad of other programs.”

Ms. Wagner expects that, come 2022, work activities will be required again in order for one to participate in the program.

In further news, serious allegations were leveled against the Union County Improvement Authority during the meeting by Carolyn Brink of Fanwood when addressing the commissioners during the public-comment portion of the meeting.

During her comments, Ms. Brink came out in support of her husband, Mark Brink, who, she stated, was “hand delivered a termination letter” on September 9 by a “county messenger.” Ms. Brink alleges the Improvement Authority voted on the termination of her husband and other Improvement Authority employees without the legally-mandated “public notice” leading up to the vote that would see them fired.

“For your background, on August 13, Mark was interviewed by an outside investigator appointed by the Authority board to handle a misconduct investigation regarding the project manager, and three weeks later, he’s terminated due to a reduction in force,” said Ms. Brink. “This is nothing more than pure and deliberate retaliation, and it’s beyond unacceptable.”

Ms. Brink’s comments come in the wake of the county’s continued litigation with Dobco Inc. of Wayne. Dobco Inc. sued the county, alleging “the county’s public improvement authority skirted public-bidding requirements,” according to NJ.com’s reporting in July.

While the Union County Superior Court has allowed for construction of the $145-million project to continue, the litigation is still ongoing, including an appeal of that decision.

“I urge the commissioners to please review the completed misconduct report submitted to the Improvement Authority Board and review the notice claim filed by my husband,” said Ms. Brink.

“These documents will show you a persistent pattern of workplace bullying and mistreatment that causes serious, serious, mental and emotional harm.”

“These, of course, are private personnel matters which this board nor the administration cannot comment on in public,” said Union County Counsel Bruce Bergen. “The public should not take the lack of comment as any acquiescence to the statements.”

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