Last year, Governor Phil Murphy’s Executive Order No. 103 directed patients infected with COVID-19 to be placed in the state’s nursing and veterans’ homes. Ignoring pleas from the directors of these facilities that explicitly told the New Jersey Department of Health that - as a direct result - nursing home residents would die, the Murphy administration forced these facilities to accept COVID-infected patients.
As a result of this reckless action, more than 8,000 people died.
The families of those who died want answers. That’s why they have gone through the process of hiring lawyers and filing lawsuits. After being ignored by the Murphy administration, the families of the victim’s are spending money on legal fees to find out why their loved ones died.
The Sussex County Board of County Commissioners stand with the families of those victims. On their behalf, we have requested information from the Murphy administration and have been rebuffed with the paltry excuse that the COVID-19 pandemic is preventing the administration from following the legal guidelines of the Open Public Records Act. For months, the state has repeatedly and willfully ignored our lawful requests for transparency. We can only wonder why.
The Commissioners have decided to take the fight to the people, and place the question before Sussex County residents to provide us with the permission to carry out what we believe to be the will of the loved ones lost. We do so on behalf of the families of those who died, and on behalf of the taxpayers who pay for bureaucracies like the New Jersey Department of Health - under the premise that this agency is charged with keeping us safe, and on behalf of the Rule of Law - which clearly states that the Murphy administration has a duty to be transparent.
There are those who don’t want the county to force the Murphy administration to be transparent and turn over all the documents requested by the families of those who died. They argue that the facilities were sub-par to begin with. We ask: Why? Where were the state regulators that we pay the highest taxes in America to support? Why did the Murphy administration fail us?
Recently, a social worker named Kristy Lavin wrote a letter to the editor criticizing the Commissioners for our attempt to get answers. While Ms. Lavin readily identified her profession, she failed to identify that she has run multiple times for public office as a Democrat – the same political party of the Governor whose actions she now defends (while faulting the Board for asking questions of the Governor). She has even run for office – as a Democrat – for the Board on which we sit. Why wasn’t Ms. Lavin transparent with your readers?
This is the kind of less-than-open behavior that has brought us to the point of asking the people of Sussex County for permission to pursue all measures to compel transparency from the Murphy administration. Ms. Lavin talks about empathy, but for whom? Governor Murphy and the well-paid bureaucrats and regulators who failed those 8,000 who died as a direct result of a feckless executive order?
The Sussex County Board of County Commissioners has chosen to fight for empathy for those who have tragically died and the families they have left behind. They are the victims here – not Governor Phil Murphy. These families should not need to hire attorneys to get answers. Principled political leadership will ensure answers and justice for nursing home victims.
Sussex County Commissioners Chris Carney and Dawn Fantasia