Tips for meeting with elected officials

I never imagined that my work would involve frequent meetings with elected officials, but that is an important part of my agenda recently. As an advocate for small businesses, I’ve had the opportunity to meet locally, in Harrisburg, Dover and Trenton as well as Washington DC. Because our bayshore neighborhood is often in the news over environmental justice and aquaculture redevelopment issues, I’ve had the opportunity to host a handful of officials here on our emerging sustainable aquaculture site at Money Island, NJ.

I suggest these tips:

  1. Do your homework before the meeting. Know your representative’s voting history, committee assignments and recent activity (usually available on social media).
  2. Open with clear simple facts.
  3. Paint pictures with short clear stories of how the issue affects your business or industry.
  4. Avoid tipping your bias on politically sensitive issues. Disregard partisan politics.
  5. If the issue involves problems with unelected officials, be sensitive to comments about your legislator’s willingness to get involved. Some are not willing to get involved and will tell you so. Some will tell you that they have a poor track record working with ingrained bureaucracies. That is important information even if it is not what you want to hear.
  6. Wrap up with a clear actionable request. If that includes asking the official to write a letter, offer to prepare the letter draft yourself. Better yet, have it drafted already and offer to send the staff the electronic version.
  7. If you belong to a community group with regular meetings, extend an invitation to the meeting. This is a nice way to wrap up, exit, but hold the door open for follow-up communication.
  8. Leave you business cards with both the representative and the staff.
  9. Follow up with an email and thank you card or letter.
  10. Connect with the representative on social media and be positive and supportive. You’d be surprised how many directly answer tweets.
  11. Donate to the campaign even if it is a small amount. If you donate to an industry PAC, mention that when appropriate.

I am especially grateful to the professionals at the New Jersey Society of CPAs, especially Jeff, for teaching me the basics of advocacy, to my Cape May friend Ed for emphasizing the value of diplomacy and restraint, and to my activist friend George for showing me the power of being loud and fearless. While we may never be certain of the ultimate impact of our own advocacy efforts, I now know for sure that my voice will be heard.

Update on ‘crab king’ case as of 6/9/2019

There were unusual and unexpected actions apparently involving both the Cumberland County Prosecutor’s Office and the Clerk of the Criminal Case Management office last week. As a result, the hearing originally scheduled for tomorrow, June 10, is apparently delayed. I’ve filed motions to address the underlying reasons. It’s just incredible that so many bad acts by government and court officials could be packed into one frivolous case and this raises larger questions. Here is the update:

On May 30 I filed a motion to exclude a late-filed brief because the deadline in the case scheduling order for the state’s brief had passed. When I filed the motion in person in Bridgeton, I heard from the clerk court that she intended to allow a late-filed brief based on an ex-parte e-mail communication between the Prosecutor’s office and the court clerk. Both of these actions (the acceptance of filing outside of the court-ordered schedule and the e-mail collusion between the two court officers) are violations of criminal court procedure that work against the defendant. I complained to the clerk that the ex-parte communications that disadvantaged me in this case are reportable ethics violations. The clerk literally shrugged her shoulders in response to my objection.

IMO, an ordinary citizen should be outraged that this type of unethical action outside of legal procedure takes place against a defendant. I commented to the clerk that that this type of casual disregard for the law and willingness to place defendants at an unfair disadvantage is why average citizens lose faith in the justice system.

The clerk asked me to wait in the office of Criminal Case Management and within 30 minutes of my filing handed me a revised case scheduling order that changed the details. Apparently the revised scheduling order was an attempt to address my complaint. The prosecutor apparently filed the response brief later that day. I then filed a motion to reject the Revised Scheduling Order on the basis that it was merely an attempt by officers of the court to cover up my complaint.

Both of my motions are unaddressed at this time and I will address them later as appropriate. But based on the latest court order, the new hearing details are listed below:

Oral argument is now scheduled Monday June 17, 2019 at 1:30 PM before Honorable Judge Joseph M. Chiarello, JSC in Court Room 235, Cumberland County Court House, Broad and Fayette Streets, Bridgeton NJ for State vs. Tony Novak, Appeal #2-19. The state will be represented by Danielle Pennino, Esq. of the Cumberland County Prosecutor’s Office. The hearing is open to the public.

This case has unfortunately brought out the worst of our criminal justice system – a frivolous case gone mad. We now have:

  • A demand by a law enforcement officer where the defendant could not possibly comply with the demand
  • A law enforcement officer manufacturing an offense without any witnesses or physical evidence
  • Admission of stalking by a law enforcement officer on social media
  • Admission of entrapment based on the stalking by an officer
  • A municipal court’s lack of familiarity with applicable case law
  • A prosecutor’s willingness to distort a law enforcement officer’s testimony to secure a “win” on a municipal court case
  • Mishandling of appeal paperwork by municipal court office
  • Ex-parte communications between prosecutor and the court
  • Refusal of officers of the court to take responsibility for their own bad behavior

Court filings that are normally available as public (or even restricted) records online are apparently not available for this type of case. I do not know why.  I plan to make the case records available after final disposition of the case, unless legally restricted, if the court does not do so. Other legal observers are looking at this case both in terms of the prosecutorial procedures as well as the potential impact on online marketing  of regulated industries like community-funded fishing.

Unfortunately, this case has turned into a clear example of what is wrong with our criminal justice system today. crabs in basket

Mosquito control at the bayshore

We are entering the peak season for mosquitoes at the bayshore. They will expand rapidly in June and continue until first freeze. Mosquito management here has six components:

  1. Elimination of standing water. This means vigilant turning over of buckets, barrels etc. I think this makes the most difference. I’m known to be militaristic in keeping our community free of standing water containers.
  2. Treatment of standing water that can’t be eliminated. A government-required fuel spill containment area, for example, holds unavoidable standing water. I use bacillus thuringiensis tablets available in hardware stores but have no way of knowing if that actually works. Another visitor suggests that a tiny amount of bleach also works.
  3. Keeping them out of the house and buildings. This is the hardest part for me. They can come in though the often open doors and the doggie door flap and gaps or holes in screens. It’s a constant battle.
  4. Wear long leaves and long pants. Most of my bites are on exposed skin like neck and ankles. I buy specific clothing to wear under different insect conditions, including head masks for some spring work.
  5. Wear repellent. DEET and the natural products seem to work equally well. The problem is remembering to put it on. Of course nobody wears it all the time. We keep a basket of assorted products available for all visitors.
  6. Treat bites. I use meat tenderizer. There are other natural options and plenty of over-the-counter treatment products.

Mosquitoes are one of the six major insect pests here at the bayshore. The others are gnats, green head flies, strawberry flies, ticks and house flies. Each one has its own management strategies that we take seriously. Bayshore residents know that insects are not to be taken lightly. Visitors are likely to hear the local phrase “June is for the bugs”. Outdoor activities are often dependent on having an adequate breeze of over 5 mph to keep most of the bugs away. Bugs are our natural human population control and some have speculated that without the insects our bayshore would be lined with high rise condominiums.

Healthy Fish Chart

This fish choice chart from the FDA is highlighted with the species of our most common Delaware Bay catch. It’s great that our most common species: crab, oyster, perch and flounder, striper, weakfish all make the grade.

fish choice

Thanks for the first $50,000!

Baysave is tremendously grateful to the bayshore community for helping us raise more than $50,000 to help struggling businesses in and around Money Island in Cumberland County over the past three years. We achieved this milemark this past month in May 2019. Most of that charitable grant and donation money during this first decade was spent on state financial demands: permit fees, user fees, taxes, application fees, etc. for environmental problems that were the state’s fault for their failures decades ago. Baysave is a 501(c)(3) formed in 2010 and registered with the State of New Jersey as a public charity. Our funding comes from private donors, private grants and the public.

eagle-on-A-Dock-(3)

We still have a long way to go toward restoration of Money Island with about $100,000 in government expenses still unpaid. Most of this is needed for aquaculture permitting to convert a former marina into docks and seafood handling facilities. We also support a range of public access to waterways initiatives. Our diverse stakeholders include universities, environmental groups, recreational public fishing and naturalists. We believe that the community will continue to support the basic goals of food security, restorative aquaculture expansion and shoreline stabilization.

Why Money Island?

Money Island is New Jersey’s second most productive seafood landing port and the target site for a conversion into restorative aquaculture practices. In other words, we’ve taken the challenge of rising tides and turned it into a good thing. We have a “shovel ready” plan of action that has been shared and endorsed by many in state government and the NJDEP. Money Island is also possibly New Jersey’s most remote and most pristine natural environment, surrounded by thousands of acres of undeveloped space.

The disaster after the disaster

We survived the devastating impact of superstorm Sandy but not the corruption in government that followed in the aftermath of storm recovery.

Prior to Sandy, BaySave had a strong track record of working as a partner with the state and was often cited for our innovative projects. Then a few bad government actors got involved. I personally received threats, solicitations for bribes and, to this day, extortion pressures from government officials. These bad deeds are all reported, a few were investigated, but none were prosecuted.

How the battle to adapt to climate change turned into a battle against bad government

How did Governor Phil Murphy and Attorney General Gurbir Grewal show its appreciation for the environmental compliance progress that this rural Cumberland County community has made so far during the first two years of his administration? By suing Baysave, it’s former directors and executive because we are not moving fast enough. State officials have repeatedly refused to reply to requests for meetings and declined to participate in the NJDEP’s statutory alternate dispute resolution procedures. How did our local elected officials respond? Our local government says they are powerless to help against what they repeatedly refer to as the actions of “DEP terrorists”. Our former State Senator said it is too risky to get involved and our current State Senator  and Assemblyman are apparently taking the same position.

Standing firm for our future

Yet we stand with New Jersey’s independent seafood businesses. New Jersey’s small independent watermen are an important part of the future of our food security, shoreline stabilization, restorative aquaculture and sea level rise response. This is an example of government acting badly against its poorest and most vulnerable populations.

We urge the community to continue to stand united with us against bad government for a strong and sustainable future.

#environmentaljustice

 

Observed reduction in local pesticide and chemical fertilizer use

We see a favorable long term shift in pesticide use and resulting pollution here at our region of the Delaware Bay in New Jersey. Yet little is published about this trend. We read plenty of material about the Chesapeake Bay and most of our information about pesticide and fertilizer runoff actually comes from that watershed (like in this July 2018 article). The downside of pesticide and fertilizer use at the bay region is well documented. But here is the good news: many or most of the farms in our region of Cumberland County New Jersey have shifted to organic gardening methods over the past few years. The market demand for organic produce caused these farms to switch over from the former corn and soy bean crops that were driven by chemical applications. We’ve seen no published data yet but we suspect that local water quality is improving. 

Newport farm with clover.JPG

This photo shows a Newport, New Jersey farm with a cover crop of clover. Clover provides a natural source of soil nitrogen and prevents soil erosion over the winter season.

NEW JOBS PAC

Tony Novak CPA will represent Baysave at the 2019 NEW JOBS PAC “The Voice of Business” Annual South Jersey Legislative Reception for the New Job Political Action Committee as a member of the NJCPA and supporter of its PAC. The annual event attracts local lawmakers to discuss local business and economic development opportunities and hindrances.

New Jobs PAC logo

The group focuses on legislation to improve the business climate in New Jersey by supporting pro-business political candidates. Baysave is involved in revitalization of the bayshore economy and last year received funding from the NJ Community Capital THRIVE Grant to promote the local crab industry through a multi-state marketing cooperative. That effort was stymied by legal action by state government.

Baysave is focused on spreading the word about the huge growth potential of our local aquaculture industry, especially blue claw crabs and oysters at the Delaware Bay region. Advanced and technology open the door to a tenfold increase in total seafood production in the years ahead. That growth means moe infrastructure needed, more jobs created and more tax revenue for South Jersey government.

Thoughts on lawn mowing

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says 5% of air pollution is caused by lawn mowers. In general, I don’t think most people realize how much more damaging a small engine is With its emissions compared to a modern automobile.

There are demonstrated benefits of not mowing grass, especially here at the bayshore. Grass and it’s root system prevent erosion, reduce evaporation in summer, slow down storm runoff and act as a groundwater filter. Yet many communities, including our own Downe Township, have mowing requirements for land owners. Years ago I tried a re-wilding experiment at my bayside cabin. Dune grasses, bayberry shrubs and cedars dotted my former lawn. My experiment triggered a citation from the township. Now I compromise by mowing some sections and leaving others as designated erosion control zones. Big Brother seems OK with that.

I’ve used both electronic and gasoline mowers. Neither type lasts much more than two years in the salt air. Now I’m back to an electric model. Maybe I can tap into the massive expansion of solar power generation happening here in Cumberland County New Jersey.

The only decision left to make is corded or cordless? My decision came down to this:

  1. I own miles of extension cords; I don’t mind dragging one out
  2. Batteries are heavy, making the mower heavier
  3. Lithium battery technology is safe and environmentally OK
  4. Cordless are more expensive
  5. The corded one comes with a 5 year warranty.

So Baysave properties will be maintained with a new corded electronic mower in 2019.

Progress in redevelopment planning

Dennis and I had a productive meeting today going over Money Island plans on a lot by lot basis. We have a solid strategy and better timeline now. There are still plenty of unanswered questions but we agreed that we don’t need to have all the details immediately. I spoke with two commercial watermen. It’s fair to say they are suspicious of the impact of our work on their businesses.

Phone call with two PhDs

In the realm of ‘firsts’, this was one that I could not have predicted. A surprise phone call came in Friday from our government relations liaison, a PhD with a background in economic development in the office of another PhD Director of Coastal Resiliency at Rowan University.

Government relations and coastal resilience: what a team! That’s exactly the combination we need around here.

It’s not appropriate for me to get into a “he said…” situation in a public blog post like this. But is is useful to say that I am learning about new areas of public policy that were previously invisible to me. The entire topic of what government needs to do in terms of long term planning largely escapes public view. I was introduced to the topics of what is a “win” in the eyes of government, its impact on future elections and even the survival of our economy and society. Simple topics like planning for enough food to feed ourselves is really a big deal. Yet it isn’t something that makes the newspapers every day.

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At the end of this call I felt more confident of the role that Money Island will play in the future as the region’s seafood landing port. Many shore towns will need to dissolve: “strategic retreat” is the popular phrase in public policy discussions. Yet some seaports will need to remain open for our survival. We will see a deeper channel for even larger oyster boats. Heavy duty commercial docks for the expanding aquaculture industry are already in the works. Loading dock, refrigerators and freezers need to be upgraded. The seawall project will be continued. We are one of the chosen few ports that will be supported; even at the massive costs required to adapt to climate change and rising tides.

In the end, our tiny rural seafood landing port will see more than a tenfold increase in its economic contribution to the region. Of course, in a long term saga like this most of the story is yet to unfold.