The Essex Watch is a volunteer watchdog organization and public advocacy platform. It partners with engaged citizens and civic groups in various municipalities, and offers guidance on how to identify, report, and raise awareness of misconduct in local government.
The Watch monitors public spending, contract awards, campaign finance, tax abatements, and development deals by elected officials to protect the interests of taxpayers and the local community.
The Watch also investigates allegations of public corruption, and often publishes its findings. In some cases, detailed reports are sent directly to law enforcement agencies.
The Essex Watch is dedicated to promoting civic engagement in local issues, open government, best practices, and accountability in public office.
About the Author
Lee “Griff” Dorry is a public advocate, citizen journalist, and the founder of The Essex Watch.
Launched in February 2014 as a social justice experiment called “Nutley Watch”, the Essex Watch Project has grown substantially in both its scope and its mission.
Within the first year of his project, Lee established a visible presence across two townships, Nutley and Belleville. For his long term goal, he intends to expand his project by linking arms with other local community advocates and civic organizations in order to eventually form a “Watch” – a unified network of interconnected watchdog groups sharing resources – in each of the 22 municipalities in Essex County and beyond.
Lee has been featured several times on News 12’s popular “Kane In Your Corner” series for his investigative journalism.
Among other notable achievements, Lee worked with Belleville citizens to help raise awareness of a controversial $2 million surveillance system contract for their school district, purchased by the Board of Education at a time when despite a $65 million annual budget, somehow they could not even afford textbooks or basic teaching supplies. The financial mismanagement became apparent soon afterward when Lee helped local citizens uncover a staggering $4 million budget deficit being hidden by the Belleville BOE and the administration, prompting a State Monitor to be appointed to the district.
Less than a year later, Lee investigated and exposed a $20,000 USB flash drive scandal involving a sitting councilman who was a school board trustee when the highly questionable transaction was executed.
These issues and many more were the subject of a comprehensive two-year State investigation of the Belleville BOE, which has since been referred to the NJ Attorney General’s Division of Criminal Justice.
In 2017, Lee published an investigative report confronting the Belleville Council about how that same elected official had been secretly living in Florida, in violation of the New Jersey First Act. For several months the Council had denied any knowledge of his residency 1200 miles away. Barely a week after Lee’s report was published and provided to the media, the councilman was removed from public office.
Most recently, Lee investigated how the Mayor of Belleville pushed a townwide energy aggregation ordinance that gave a no-bid contract to a campaign donor. Lee also discovered the same pattern in other municipalities.
To date, issue campaigns undertaken by the Watch have been featured eight times on News 12 New Jersey.
On the 6th anniversary of the Watch in February 2020, Lee launched the Belleville Watch, a dedicated public advocacy branch of the project run entirely by Belleville citizens.
In addition to his volunteer work running the Essex Watch, Lee currently serves on the Board of Directors for the New Jersey Foundation for Open Government. NJFOG is the only statewide organization in New Jersey dedicated solely to improving public access to government records and meetings, educating citizens on OPRA and OPMA, and strengthening those laws through the state legislature.
In 2020, Lee was elected President of NJFOG.
Lee is a former securities trader, and has been a technology professional and business consultant for nearly 20 years. He is also a lifelong aviation enthusiast and occasional skydiver.