September 26, 2019

It hasn’t taken Manuel Couto and Gentiana Brahimaj long to descend into lying to the Berkeley Heights residents to try to get themselves elected. Couto is someone that is clearly running from his record by lying and deflecting blame to avoid responsibility for his actions.

This letter, attached ( in the comments ), was sent out to Berkeley Heights residents by the Couto and Gentiana Brahimaj campaign seemingly to blame the “current administration” for all that Couto has taken part in.

The entire letter is outrageous and chock full of lies, basically pointing fingers rather than taking responsibility, and lying rather than being sincere. In this case it has been done to such a disgusting level that I felt the need to post a response.

This letter makes the following claims:
1) Municipal Building Project is a mess and the “current administration” is to blame - Couto voted yes on every aspect of this project.
2) Shared Services Agreement with the County - Couto voted yes on this agreement.
3) Couto And Brahimaj are fiscally responsible - Couto has raised Berkeley Heights taxes every single year and it would be difficult for anyone to outspend Manuel over the past 3 years.

Here are the facts/details.

Municipal Building Project

Couto is trying to blame the “new administration” for the Municipal Building project which is currently a total mess. However, Couto was part of the team that pushed this massive project on the residents without any true needs analysis and without any vote from the residents. This project has been veiled in conflict of interests from the start.

The “new administration” had little to do with this ugly project. The building manager and the builder were already hand selected by Couto and the previous administration. Couto also voted to bypass the normal bidding process.

Couto voted yes for every aspect of the Municipal Building project. He voted yes for the initial $28,000,000 in bonding, then after promises were made that it would not go above $28,000,000 he voted yes for the additional $4,000,000 in bonding. Couto voted yes for all of the cost overruns. He voted no for the Asbestos removal and then refused to answer any questions about why he voted no or what the alternative would be. The Municipal Building project was never under-budget by $1,000,000 and questionably ever on-time at any point since its inception.

Couto and the previous administration was warned by the residents and told that this project would most likely not be on budget or on time. Couto ignored the residents and promised it would be delivered on time and on budget. Now that it isn’t, he is looking for others to blame.

Shared Services Agreement

Couto himself voted YES on “Shared Services agreements with Union County that favor Union County and Not Berkeley Heights”. But now is blaming “the current administration” for something that he himself voted YES on.

Fiscal Responsibility

Couto and Brahimaj state that they will “Manage taxes by controlling spending”. This line is particularly offensive. Under Couto’s last three years on the council, he has voted to increase our taxes every year. One could say that it would be hard for any administration to spend more than Couto has spent over the course of his tenure and the spending Couto approved would now make it very difficult for taxes not to be raised in the future.

Couto has voted to more than double the townships debt and doubled the capital spending in one year. This last year he had to vote on a budget. He voted no because he wanted to include more spending in the budget.

This was a chance for the Township to reduce headcount and a pension. Couto voted no, insisted that the headcount was not removed then voted yes on the budget after that headcount and additional pension was put back in. In the end he voted yes on this years budget after they appeased his call for this additional headcount.

Now he is trying to avoid responsibility and is blaming the “New Administration” even though he voted yes on this years budget. At no time did Couto suggest anything be cut from the budget and yet now is criticizing the ensuing tax increase which is largely a result of his own spending over the last three years. The hypocrisy is astounding.

It is clear that not only have Couto and his team not learned from their mistakes but that they also intend to try to avoid any responsibility at all for what they have done. These are not the type of people we need running our town.