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.
My months of appealing to the Burlington County Prosecutor's office for help enforcing the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) appear to have paid off.
I learned today that on March 18, 2008, Burlington County Prosecutor Robert D. Bernardi sent a letter to at least some (and hopefully all) municipalities in Burlington County "strongly suggest[ing]" that they review the OPMA, and advising them that "full and complete compliance with all provisions of the OPMA is absolutely necessary to avoid the possibility of monetary sanctions [and] . . . to continue to maintain the public trust." He credited the NJLP as being the impetus for the letter.
As citizen oversight of government grows, public agencies are resisting the oversight. One of the ways public agencies resist oversight is by threatening to sue members of the public who exercise their rights. These types of lawsuits are called “SLAPP” lawsuits
Citizen oversight of government is essential. To perform adequate oversight of New Jersey public agencies, which include public schools, municipal, county, and much of State government, citizens must have information. In New Jersey, one of the tools citizens can use to acquire information is the Open Public Records Act (“OPRA”). Under OPRA, citizens have the right to inspect or request copies of “public records,” which are broadly defined as:
On February 11, 2008, after learning that the Mount Holly Municipal Utilities Authority (MUA) had failed to record executive session meeting minutes for at least ten years, in blatant violation of the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA), I asked Burlington County Prosecutor Robert D. Bernardi to do more to ensure compliance with the OPMA by public agencies within Burlington County.
I received a February 19, 2008 response from Assistant Prosecutor Thaddeus E. Drummond informing me that he had contacted the MUA's attorney about the ten-year lapse, but his letter did not address the larger issue of his office's proper role in generally enforcing the OPMA.
All the correspondence, including my March 4, 2008 reply to Drummond, is on-line at: http://www.lpcnj.org/OGTF/MtHollyMUA1.pdf
Somerset, New Jersey
On January 15, 2008, the New Jersey Supreme Court granted the Libertarian Party of Central New Jersey motion to appear as "amicus curiae" (i.e. friend of the court) in a pending public records case. The motion, brief, certification and court order are at www.lpcnj.org/OGTF/HobokenAmicus.pdf
Mason v. City of Hoboken, the case that the LPCNJ is participating in, presents the Supreme Court with two issues:
to the Coast Star of December 20, 2007 Manasquan Borough agreed to
amend its policy so that disclosure of closed
session minutes no longer relies on formal "approval" by the council. The article began by describing John Paff,” a member of the New Jersey Libertarian Party and chairman of the party's Open Government Advocacy Project,” who had requested the closed session minutes of a number of council meetings
As reported in the newspaper, the council discussed Mr. Paff's letter urging the borough to alter its policy to speed up the release of closed session meeting minutes. At the meeting of the mayor and council. It was decided that the clerk, township administrator, and borough counsel could review the documents together before releasing them. The step where the council would formally resolve to release the records would be eliminated. John says “this might shave a week or two from responses to requests.”
Seeking the “naked truth” from Long Hill Board os Ed
With attorney Walter Luers representing him, John sued the Long Hill (Morris County) school board so that he could either confirm or dispute unverified statements on the Internet that a former, male member of the Long Hill Board of Education told a female member of the school district's administration that "If you take your clothes off, you can have anything you want in [administrative contract] negotiations."
received a heavily redacted copy of the Board's
nonpublic (i.e. closed or executive session) minutes from April 23, 2007 in response to an earlier records request, he found an on-line article that claimed that "reliable sources" had reported that a former Board of Education member had allegedly made the above-described comment that ultimately resulted in the member's resignation from the Board and the female administrator filing a grievance and taking an extended medical leave
The NJ Libertarian recently interviewed John Paff asking him why Libertarians should care about the Open Public Records Act (OPRA). John's name and activities are well known to the regular readers of the NJ Libertarian. John is serving as the Chair of the Open Government Advocacy Council of the NJ Libertarian Party.
On June 26, 2007, during a public meeting, the Evesham Township (Burlington County) suspended a kindergarten teacher, with pay, for "improper interaction with a student in her charge."
For the last several weeks, John Paff of the NJLP Open Government task force has been trying to learn the nature of the "improper interaction" so that he (and others--especially parents and taxpayers in Evesham) can be in a position to judge whether the paid suspension was appropriate. As expected, the Board has completely denied him access to any and all information regarding this matter.See John's letter to the Board's attorney.