Open Government Advocacy Project
The Open Government Advocacy Project is a committee of the NJ Libertarian Party. Its goal is to ensure transparency and accountability at all levels of government. Articles posted here are a subset of the work of the committee. For more information visit the Open Government Advocacy Project blog.
If you would like to demand accountability and ensure that your local governing body or school board adheres to the Open Public Records Act we can help you request information from them. Contact John Paff, the project chair here.
In late 2014, I blogged about my common law right of access lawsuit that compelled the Township of Hainesport (Burlington County) to release a list of all public officials, employees and retirees who were receiving health insurance that was subsidized by Hainesport taxpayers. While nothing illegal was discovered, the list did confirm that Hainesport taxpayers were paying about $27,000 toward health coverage for each of four elected Township Committee members who selected the "family plan." (The fifth member of the Committee, William M. Boettcher, selected the "married plan" reducing the taxpayers' burden in 2014 to approximately $21,000.)
Former school principal interviewed by prosecutor about his "involvement with a minor" is receiving $7,800 gross monthly pension benefits
On February 2, 2015, I blogged here about my Open Public Records Act (OPRA) lawsuit that seeks an investigative report and video regarding an Atlantic County elementary school principal who unexpectedly resigned a few days after being interviewed by the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office about his "involvement with a minor." To date, no charges have been filed against the principal, John Gibson. Gibson was formerly employed by the Galloway Township school district.
Today, I received a report (on-line here) from the New Jersey Division of Pensions showing that Gibson has been receiving monthly net pension checks of an undisclosed amount since May 1, 2014. Before deductions, however, the gross monthly pension amount is $7,834.50
Patricia Parkin McNamara
Local Finance Board
101 S Broad St – PO Box 803
Trenton, NJ 08625-0803
Dear Ms. McNamara:
I intend this e-mail to be my complaint against Robert Maybury who, at all times relevant to the activities alleged below, served as a member of the Westampton Township Committee in Burlington County. In accordance with N.J.A.C. 5:35-1.1(b), following are the required elements of the complaint:
1. State the point of the Local Government Ethics Law (LGEL) alleged to be violated.
N.J.S.A. 40A:9-22.5(d) which states:
Lawsuit seeks details on school principal who unexpectedly resigned after being interviewed by prosecutor
Clinton attorney Walter M. Luers recently filed an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) lawsuit on my behalf for a county prosecutor's records regarding an investigation involving a former Atlantic County school principal who unexpectedly took a paid leave of absence on January 30, 2014 and resigned on March 31, 2014.
Lawsuit seeks nature of “suspicious incident” that resulted in Bound Brook High School teacher's firing
On March 11, 2015 at 9 a.m., Somerset County Superior Court Assignment Judge Yolanda Ciccone will hear argument in my newly filed lawsuit against the Borough of Bound Brook (Paff v. Borough of Bound Brook, Docket No. SOM-L-72-15). The main issue in my lawsuit, which was filed by Montclair attorney Richard M. Gutman, is whether Bound Brook Borough violated my rights under the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) and the common law right of access by redacting the "narrative description" from a police report of an October 29, 2014 incident involving a 24-year-old teacher (identified as the "Suspect") and an unidentified juvenile (identified as the "Victim").
On August 1, 2014, the New Jersey Libertarian Party (NJLP) formally petitioned the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA) for a rule requiring municipalities and other local government units to specify an "up to" dollar amount in each resolution that awards a public contract. At its December 10, 2014 meeting, the DCA's Local Finance Board preliminarily approved the requested rule and will consider final adoption after a 60-day public comment period.
The NJLP submitted its rulemaking petition in response the Parsippany-Troy Hills governing body's award of a no-bid financial consulting contract to a company that was reportedly owned by or tied to the township's recently-resigned Chief Financial Officer. The resolution that awarded the contract and other related paperwork said only that the amount of the contract "will exceed $17,500." When a local newspaper requested records showing the exact contract amount, Parsippany-Troy Hills responded that the contract "hasn't been signed by the Administration [and that] could take up to 30 days."
On Thursday, January 15, 2015, the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee will discuss Senate Bill No. 1236 which seeks to establish a two-year pilot program placing the Edison Township (Middlesex County) Police Department's internal affairs function under the jurisdiction of the New Jersey Attorney General. Important for transparency advocates are amendments proposed by the New Jersey Foundation for Open Government (NJFOG) that would require the Attorney General to "publicly disclose the internal affairs complaints, investigative reports and internal affairs dispositions for each internal affairs matter that was processed during the two year pilot program." NJFOG's proposal is fully supported by the bill's sponsor, Senator Peter J. Barnes, III (D-18), who has previously served on Edison's municipal council.
Back in March, I filed a lawsuit against Hainesport Township (Burlington County) seeking a list of all public officials, employees and retirees who have been enrolled in the Township's health insurance plan during 2011 to 2014. For background on that suit, which I won, please see my blog here.
Haineport originally said that it would appeal the lower court's decision that forced it to make the information public. Recently, however, Hainesport withdrew its appeal plans. On December 19, 2014, Township Clerk Leo F. Selb, Jr. released an Excel spreadsheet which I've placed on-line here. (Note that there are tabs at the bottom of the file that show the enrollees during each year.)
Retired Wildwood Crest police officers to testify on why letters related to their misconduct should remain secret
In a November 18, 2014 opinion, Superior Court Judge Nelson C. Johnson ordered retired Wildwood Crest Lieutenant Michael Hawthorne and Captain David Mayer to appear before him on December 12, 2014, 10:30 a.m. to explain why letters why letters discussing their "serious deceitful and/or untruthful" conduct should continue to be withheld from the public. Johnson's decision is on-line here and background information on this lawsuit is on-line here.
On January 13, 2014, Clinton attorney Walter M. Luers filed an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) lawsuit on my behalf challenging the suppressions and redactions the Governor's Office applied to travel documents related to the Governor's April 2013 trip to Dallas, Texas for the dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum. Background on that suit is on-line here.
Today, I had a records custodian claim that she was not obligated to search beyond the walls of her office for records responsive to my Open Public Records Act request.
Since it is fairly common for custodians to take this position, I have publicly posted my response to her. I hope that this might be helpful for other requestors who encounter similar situations.
Dear Records Custodian:
As you know, I submitted an Open Public Records Act request for a settlement agreement that resolved a civil lawsuit against the municipality. You had initially responded that "no settlement [is] available for this case."
By way of background, Atlantic County Judge Nelson C. Johnson, on June 10, 2014, required Galloway Township to disclose e-mail logs showing the sender, recipient, date and subject line of each e-mail sent by a specific government employee during a specified period of time. On September 4, 2014, Galloway appealed from that ruling. More information and case documents are on-line here.
NJ Television also covered the issue in an article here.
State refuses to identify municipal professionals enrolled in state pension plan. Claims that those professionals have a "reasonable expectation of privacy"
In 2007, the New Jersey Legislature enacted N.J.S.A. 43:15A-7.2, which was intended to curtail the participation of professional service providers such as attorneys and engineers in the New Jersey Public Employees' Retirement System (PERS). The law, which became effective on January 1, 2008, made these professionals ineligible for PERS participation as of the expiration date of their existing contract or annual appointment.
Despite this mandate, the New Jersey's Office of the State Comptroller (OSC), in a July 17, 2012 report entitled "Improper Participation By Professional Service Providers In The State Pension System," (on-line here) found that "an overwhelming majority" the municipalities and school districts it surveyed had "failed to comply with the statutory requirement to remove independent contractors from PERS." This failure, the OSC report noted, has the potential to cost the state millions of dollars in inappropriate future pension benefits."
According to the report, the OSC developed a list of 332 professionals, retained by 228 municipalities and school districts, who remained in the PERS system after the law took effect. The OSC then conducted a survey of 58 of the 228 local units and several of those municipalities surveyed are mentioned in the report.