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.
On April 15, 2011, Hunterdon County Sheriff Corporal Sandra Ford delivered a writ of execution to the Wells Fargo Bank at 74 Church Street, Flemington and levied on Hunterdon's County's bank accounts. The levy amount, $93,265.37, represented legal fees that the County owes to the South Jersey law firm Friedman & Doherty, LLC of West Berlin.
The County was ordered to pay the $93,265.37 by Superior Court Assignment Judge Yolanda Ciccone's February 7, 2011 order that arose out of a class action lawsuit captioned James Gensch et al v. Mary H. Melfi, Hunterdon County Clerk et al, Docket No. HNT-L-307-07.
Gensch's lawsuit was a class action, filed on May 8, 2007, challenging the 25 cents per page charged by the self service copier machines located in the deeds and mortgages recording room. Gensch alleged that the 25 cents per page was too high and that the County was legally allowed to only collect its actual cost per copy, which Gensch estimated to be 7 cents.
I am sometimes asked how I word my OPRA requests to public bodies that I wish to audit for compliance with the Open Public Meetings Act's closed session requirements.
I use the following form of request, since it is informs me of a) how current the body is on making its closed session minutes publicly disclosable, b) the level of detail contained in the body's closed session minutes, c) how closely the topics that the body resolved to discuss in closed session correspond to the topics that the body actually discussed in closed session, and d) the extent to which the body's closed session minutes are "reasonably comprehensible" as required by law.
Sunlight needed urgently in N.J
Whenever anyone utters the acronym OPRA, John Paff's ears ring.
For 23 years, the man behind the state Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project has waged legal battles against many New Jersey government entities. He expands OPRA via case law, increases records access under Common Law, pushes to eliminate the enforcement of local government ordinances in conflict with state laws and ensures officials properly publish or disclose records.
Read the full story on Courier Post Online.
The Galloway Township online newspaper ran an article today mentioning the Open Government Advocacy Project and the the role of the project in uncovering why the Township Manager was dismissed.
I recently requested the minutes of the Galloway Township (Atlantic County) Council's December 14, 2010 and January 25, 2011 closed session in order to better understand the reasons why Galloway Mayor Keith Hartman and Council members removed Manager Roger B. Tees from his position in late January 2011.
The minutes, although still heavily redacted, do provide some details on the Council's reasons for removing Tees. They are on-line here.
In an important ruling handed down today, the Appellate Division ruled that the routine sequencing of a five-minute open session, followed by a closed session of indeterminate duration, followed by the resumption of an open session, violates the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA).
On November 2, 2010, the Borough of Seaside Heights (Ocean County) agreed to pay $50,000 to a Bloomingdale man who sued members of the Seaside Heights Police Department for falsely arresting him after he photographed the officers arresting another man.
In his suit, George W. Kramer said that on July 29, 2007 he was returning to his friend's car after a night on the town when he observed police "in the process of assaulting and/or arresting a number of individuals, including one individual who was on the ground, handcuffed, and being 'Maced.'" Since he had a camera on him, he snapped a couple photos of the encounter from across the street.
Judge to hear request for Brigantine records
Open Public Records advocate John Paff's complaint against Brigantine is expected to be heard in state Superior Court in December, Paff said Wednesday.
In his suit, Paff seeks records related to the "investigative report and a municipal settlement agreement" involving former Police Chief Jim Frugoli.
Paff, a state Libertarian Party official from Somerset County who has sued multiple municipalities over public records, had sought information about the city investigation conducted in March by the law firm of Archer and Greiner.
On August 3, 2010, I sent an open letter to Brigantine Mayor Philip J. Guenther and the City Council seeking access to a settlement agreement that a member of the city's police administration reached with the City and an employee who accused him of sexual harassment. My letter is on-line here.
Since the City did not respond to my letter, I filed suit against Brigantine on September 14, 2010. The suit seeks access to the settlement agreement under three legal theories: a) the Open Public records Act (OPRA), b) the common law right of access, and c) the Local Fiscal Affairs Law. I am being represented by Richard Gutman, Esq. of Montclair.
I would like to commend the Borough of Hightstown (Mercer County) on the transparent manner in which it recently filled a vacant seat on its municipal council.
One member of the Borough Council, a Republican, resigned. According to the Municipal Vacancy Law, N.J.S.A. 40A:16-1, et seq., the local Republican Committee submitted the names of three nominees to the Borough Council. The Council was then obliged to select one of those nominees to serve the remainder of the vacated term.
On September 24, 2010, I wrote to the Neptune Township Housing Authority complaining that the Authority's Board of Commissioners is not in compliance with the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) and the Senator Byron M. Baer Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA). Among the issues complained of: a) the Authority charging an excessive amount for copies of public records, b) the Authority's failure to respond to a request for executive session minutes and c) the Authority's failure to adequately inform the public of the topics that will discussed during non-public (i.e., "executive" or "closed") session. My letter and attachments are on-line here.
Sometimes I get questions from readers that I think may be of general interest. Here is one such question and my response to it.
The county in which I reside owns and operates a miniature golf course. The Freeholder Director claims that the course is making money and doing well, but I'm not so sure. When I attempted to OPRA the golf course's income and expense records from the County, I am told that the records I seek do not exist, that the county is under no responsibility to create records for me or that my request is too broad. Since I don't know the records that the county keeps and how it arranges them, it is difficult if not impossible for me to request them. What do I do?
An editorial was written in support of our efforts in Bloomfield. It is regrettable that this situation ended up costing the taxpayers. More information is on my blog.
Editorial: 'Bottomless well' of money to suppress documents
Well, that wasn't so hard was it? Actually it was.
The township has finally relented and settled out of court with an open public records advocate who sued to have letters and e-mails released between a detective from the Essex County Prosecutor's Office, Councilwoman Patricia Spychala, and Spychala's attorney, Ed Kologi, and Township Attorney Brian Aloia.
That only took months of badgering, critical newspaper articles and a lawsuit. Close to $5,000 later, John Paff, chairman of the Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project, who sued the town, got his answer. And that was? Nothing we already didn't know.
READINGTON TWP. — Although a search of a vehicle that yielded a backpack full of cash that smelled like marijuana was ruled invalid, the money was never returned to the vehicle’s occupants.
In June the appellate division of the state Superior Court ruled the search was invalid but many readers — including John Paff, who is chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Party’s Open Government Advocacy Project — were curious as to what happened to the smelly money.