NJ Watchdog salutes reporter who runs outside the pack

SILENCE: An independent newspaper loses an independent voice.

By Mark Lagerkvist | New Jersey Watchdog

New Jersey Watchdog offers a big wag of the tail in honor of David Neese, a feisty journalist not afraid to raise hell.

After 40-odd years as a reporter and editorial writer at The Trentonian, Neese joins the growing ranks of newspaper veterans who are out of work.

“I’m being eased out the door as of Friday, the job eliminated for supposed ‘economic’ reasons,” Neese wrote in an email last week. “Well, anyway, what the hell, I’ve been at this so damn long it’s maybe about time somebody gonged me.”

Neese is one of the few journalists who covered New Jersey Watchdog’s ‘Doublegate’ investigation since its early stages. The stories focused on alleged pension improprieties involving Lt. Gov. Kim Guadango — and more recently on a whitewash of an investigation by the Division of Criminal Justice, where Guadagno once served as deputy director.

Neese captured the essence of the conflict in this colorful Trentonian editorial published in October 2012:

Gov. Christie travels the land hailed by enthusiastic crowds eager to sample his blunt-talk, no-nonsense Jersey routine — the stuff that made him a star of You-Tube. But everywhere the Guv goes, there’s this growling pit bull, its jaws firmly clamped on the gubernatorial ankle. Can’t shake the thing. Dang dawg.

The dang dawg would be the NJ Watchdog. NJ Watchdog is nothing if not tenacious. The dawg is kenneled in Red Bank, under the aegis of veteran investigative reporter Mark Lagerkvist.

This dang dawg refuses to be impressed by the fact that the governor is an important personage who was on the short list of prospective VPs.

The dawg snarls and barks at the Christie administration like it’s nothing more than another assemblage of backroom pols trying to put one over on the folks who just arrived on the back of the pickup with a load of turnips out of Millway or some such deep South Jersey backwater. Dang dawg has Christie’s No. 2 treed right now and won’t go away no matter how much the administration keeps shouting, “Go on, git outta here!” No. 2, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, sits up there on the limb, waiting to see what happens next. Dang dawg’s waiting her out.

Here’s the current status: Dawg has put the state government in the peculiar position of dragging itself into court. This has to be one of the oddest antics in the annals of Blackstone. The state in effect is suing itself to keep itself from handing over records NJ Watchdog has demanded. The records pertain to possibly embarrassing – or worse – finagling Guadagno allegedly did when she was Monmouth County Sheriff.

Dang dawg alleges that she pulled a slick one to enable an aide to do a little double dipping at the expense of taxpayers. She allegedly classified one Michael Donovan Jr. as a lowly underling in charge of arrest warrants when actually he was her chief sheriff’s officer and paid as such. This enabled him to go on collecting an $85,000 public pension on top of his $87,500 sheriff’s office salary – all in alleged contravention of the statutes of the Great State of New Jersey and the peace and dignity thereof, to use the flowery verbiage favored by law enforcement.

One arm of the state government, the N.J. Government Records Council, was going through the pension records pursuant to dang dawg’s demand. But now another arm of government has hauled that arm into court to enjoin it from releasing said documents. Meanwhile, the Lt. Guv sits up there on the limb, and dang dog stands down there growling about double dipping and how Christie’s vaunted pension reform overlooks what could be New Jersey’s official state dance if the square dance weren’t already it.

And so we wait. No problem, so far, for the Guv, as he travels about the land. Nobody out there in Iowa or Wisconsin asking the Guv, “What’s all the barking?” It’s gotta be uncomfortable for No. 2, though, up there in that tree.

The Trentonian has already removed Neese’s biography from its website, but here are links to a selection of his news stories and columns on Doublegate and double-dipping:

http://www.trentonian.com/general-news/20131110/state-watch-a-scandal-in-guvs-way

http://www.trentonian.com/article/TT/20130217/NEWS01/130219638

http://www.trentonian.com/government-and-politics/20131006/state-watch-a-hush-hush-pension-flap

http://www.trentonian.com/government-and-politics/20140126/state-watch-is-double-dippergate-next

http://www.trentonian.com/general-news/20140209/state-watch-christies-three-front-war

http://www.trentonian.com/general-news/20131209/trentonian-state-watch-state-must-justify-its-pension-case-secrecy

http://www.trentonian.com/general-news/20130916/state-watch-nj-pension-time-bomb-still-ticking

Thanks, Dave. You’ll be missed.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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