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.
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.
Asserting that "the criminal investigation has concluded," Gloucester Township (Camden County) municipal attorney David F. Carlamere has disclosed police reports of a "theft of services" allegedly committed by former Township Public Works Director Len Moffa. I have previously blogged about this lawsuit here.
Perth Amboy, in a sanctimonious display, finally gives up police report on alleged teacher-on-teacher sexual assault
In a September 3, 2014 letter, Perth Amboy (Middlesex County) City Attorney Mark J. Blunda, provided a redacted copy of a two-page police report regarding an alleged sexual assault by one Perth Amboy school teacher against another. The letter and the report, on-line here, bring my lawsuit, which I blogged about here, to an end.
I just learned today that Roy Rogers, the Gloucester Township Housing Authority's (GTHA) former director, filed a lawsuit against the Authority earlier this year alleging that he was improperly fired on February 27, 2013 and that he "was terminated for his objection to unethical GTHA policies and actions." The lawsuit is on-line here.
The most specific allegations start on page 9 and include charges that Mayor David Mayer "became visibly angry and frustrated" when Rogers objected to awarding a contract for a development project to a person who did not submit a bid. He also charged that he upset Township officials when he "refused to request campaign donations at fundraisers from private contractors for GTHA commissioners and Township officials and candidates." He also claimed that he verbally objected to a land transfer made by GTHA Commissioner Cindy Carlamere and her husband, who is Gloucester Township Attorney David Carlamere, stating that it was "unethical and procedurally improper."
On August 29, 2014, I blogged an entry entitled "Thirteen recent ethics cases against Perth Amboy school board members" concerning several school ethics matters filed by former Perth Amboy school superintendent Janine Walker Caffrey and former elementary school principal Alvaro J. Cores against members of the Board of Education.
In my blog, I noted that there were two other ethics matters, bearing Case Nos. ECC-11709-13 and ECC-00806-14 that had been " withdrawn by agreement of all parties in anticipation of settlement or mediation." I promised to submit an additional OPRA request for records pertaining to those two cases.
State Open Government Activist is 2014 FOI Hall of Famer
Well known for his public advocacy and a frequent panelist and speaker throughout New Jersey, John Paff this year becomes the 15th inductee into the State Open Government Freedom of Information Hall of Fame. Known as the “Heroes of the Fifty States,” the joint initiative of the National Freedom of Information Coalition (NFOIC) and the Society of Professional Journalists recognizes the recipient’s “long and steady effort to preserve and protect the free flow of information about state and local government that is vital to the public in a democracy.” Formal induction takes place on October 24 at the 2014 NFOIC Freedom of Information Summit in St. Petersburg, Florida.
On August 5, 2014, West Berlin attorney Donald M. Doherty, Jr. filed an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) lawsuit on my behalf against Gloucester Township (Camden County). The lawsuit, John Paff v. Township and Gloucester and Rosemary DiJosie, Township Clerk, Docket No. CAM-L-3147-14 is on-line here.
The lawsuit's basis is a tip from an informant that those in power in Gloucester Township government sought to remove a high-ranking employee from his position so that they could give the job to another person who was politically connected and favored. In order to prod the employee into leaving his position, those holding political sway allegedly arranged for the employee to be caught doing something illegal and then used a threat of arrest and prosecution to coerce him into resigning.
I have tracked down the following thirteen ethics matters that are pending or have recently closed against members of the Perth Amboy Board of Education. The New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project, as a public service, has provided links to the source documents regarding each of these complaints.
New OPRA lawsuit: Chatham Township keeps police officer's claim and two settlement agreements secret
I am accustomed to public bodies claiming that their executive session minutes are confidential. It is not so typical, however, for the public body's reasons for wanting to keep its executive minutes secret to also be kept secret. Not knowing a public body's reason for keeping a document secret makes it very difficult to challenge its claim of confidentiality.
On May 13, 2014, Passaic County Superior Court Judge Ralph L. DeLuccia told the Clifton Board of Education to provide him with some additional information so that he could decide whether or not certain portions of the Board's June 19, 2013 executive session meeting minutes should or should not be disclosed to the public. So, the attorney for the school board, Donald K. Okner, wrote up a certification dated May 20, 2014 and sent it to the court without sending a copy to my lawyer. Judge DeLuccia, based on the lawyer's secret certification, decided that the executive session minutes need to be kept secret.
On August 22, 2014 at 9 a.m., Judge Thomas F. Brogan will hear my motion, filed by Clinton lawyer Walter M. Luers, seeking to unseal the May 20, 2014 certification that convinced Judge DeLuccia to keep portions of the June 19, 2013 executive session minutes confidential.