Open Government Advocacy Project

Shedding light on TrentonThe 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.

Irvington made national headlines last year when it filed a lawsuit against an 82-year-old woman for filing too many public records requests. Now it says a lawyer for FIRE should be prosecuted.

Irvington, New Jersey, just can't help itself. First, it tried to sue an elderly woman for filing too many public records requests, and now it's suggesting that a lawyer for the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) be criminally prosecuted for doing the same.

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On Monday, March 7, 2022, the New Jersey Supreme Court held that settlement agreements that resolve disciplinary charges against public employees, redacted as necessary, are disclosable under the state's Open Public Records Act (OPRA). The case is Libertarians for Transparent Government v. Cumberland County.   I have already used the newly minted ruling to dislodge a previously-denied separation agreement involving a Somerset County police sergeant.


In his August 2, 2018 article, "Why did Rutgers pay fired AD Julie Hermann $500K more than she was owed?" Star-Ledger reporter Keith Sargeant wrote about Rutgers' refusal to provide him with the university's separation agreement with former Athletic Director Julie Hermann.  After reading the article, I had my non-profit submit an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request for the separation agreement and then sued when Rutgers denied the request.

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On December 13, 2017, the Local Finance Board, the primary enforcer of the Local Government Ethics Law (LGEL), fined a former Deputy Director of the Cumberland County Board of Chosen Freeholders $200 for voting to appoint the former mayor of Willingboro Township (Burlington County) to head the County's Office of Purchasing while the former Deputy Director served as Willingboro's Labor Counsel. 

The Board, which has the statutory authority to issue fines between $100 and $500 for LGEL violations, found that Douglas Long, who formerly served as Freeholder Deputy Director and presently chairs the Cumberland County Democratic Committee, violated the LGEL by voting in favor of appointing former Willingboro Mayor Jacqueline Jennings to head the purchasing office while he simultaneously served as Willingboro's Labor Counsel. According to its Notice of Violation, the Board determined that Long's vote in favor of Jennings' appointment constituted an official act where Long had an interest or involvement "that might reasonably be expected to impair his objectivity or independence of judgment."

On November 13, 2017, the New Jersey Local Finance Board (LFB) issued Notices of Violation to Ridgewood Village's (Bergen County) former Mayor and Manager for authorizing and appearing in a video that advocated only one side of a referendum question that was pending before Village voters.

The Notices of Violation, issued against former Mayor Paul Arohnson and former Village Manager Roberta Sonenfeld, both arose out of a June 21, 2016 referendum question which sought $11,500,000 in bonds or notes to finance the cost of constructing a new parking deck. Under New Jersey law, government officials may use public resources to educate--but not to persuade--voters on public issues.

NJLP Board Member, Dorit Goikhman, interviews John Paff.

While "personnel records" of public employees are mostly exempt under the Open Public Records Act (OPRA), N.J.S.A. 47:1A-10 makes certain types of personnel information expressly available to the public. Specifically, a public employee's "name, title, position, salary, payroll record, length of service, date of separation and the reason therefor, and the amount and type of any pension received shall be a government record" and must be disclosed to the public.

As one can see, one of the items within the public domain is an employee's "payroll record." But, what exactly is a payroll record and what information must it contain?

On August 3, 2017, Libertarians for Transparent Government (LFTG) filed a lawsuit against the Wall Township Board of Education challenging its refusal to disclose an invoice from Jostens, the high school's yearbook vendor.

The Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) requires public bodies to make the minutes of their meetings, both public and non-public (i.e. closed or executive), "promptly available to the public." Recent correspondence with one South Jersey township reveals that minutes from closed meetings held five years ago are still not available for public inspection and that minutes from closed meetings held in the 1980's and 1990's have apparently been lost forever.

A May 16, 2017 Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request to Deerfield Township in Cumberland County sought "the minutes of the three (3) most recently held [closed] Deerfield Township Committee meetings for which minutes are available in either full or redacted form." The request went on to explain that if "the three most recent closed meetings for which minutes are available in whole or part took place ten years ago in April, May and June of 2007, then those would be the minutes that are responsive to this request."

In an August 31, 2016 ruling, Burlington County Assignment Judge Ronald E. Bookbinder denied Burlington County's and the New Jersey Police Benevolent Association's (PBA) bid to reverse his previous decision calling for disclosure of a redacted list of Internal Affairs complaints against corrections officers at the Burlington County Correctional and Detention Facility.

In his ruling in John Paff v. Burlington County, et al., Docket No. BUR-L-36-15, Bookbinder wrote that disclosure of the list, with the names of the officers redacted, will help me to "research the frequency and nature of complaints brought against Burlington County Corrections Officers" without jeopardizing "the privacy interests and potential safety concerns of the officers named on the list."

On June 13, 2016, the Township of Stafford (Ocean County) agreed to pay $34,000 to a man who claimed that Mayor John Spodofora used "the Stafford Police as his personal agents" to retaliate against him for publicly criticizing Spodofora for "stolen valor" (i.e. exaggeration of military service).

In his lawsuit, Earl Galloway, a retired Navy Master Chief, said that after he created a spoof Facebook page called "Spodophony" which contained "accurate information to correct [Spodofora's] exaggerations and fabrications" regarding his service in the Vietnam conflict, Spodofora filed an identify theft charge against him, attempted to block Galloway's membership into the Stafford GOP club and publicly accused him of "hacking into [Spodofora's] child's computer and stealing files."

On July 12, 2016, I published "Sparta school board confidentially paid $50,000 to settle former custodian's wrongful termination lawsuit."  I distributed a link to the article to area media (which resulted in Eric Obernauer of the New Jersey Herald publishing "Sparta school board settles suit with former custodian" on July 14, 2016) as well as to the lawsuit plaintiff's attorney.

Today, I received the following e-mail from the attorney who represented the former school custodian in the wrongful termination lawsuit:

Mr. Paff:

On April 4, 2016, Clinton attorney Walter M. Luers filed a Denial of Access complaint with the Government Records Council (GRC) on behalf of a local on-line newspaper reporter who was told that she needed to pay "$1.80 for copying fees" before Cape May City Clerk Louise Cummiskey would scan twenty-six pages of public records into an electronic file and e-mail it to her.

For years, I have been trying to get state level enforcement of a provision in the Local Public Contracts Law that requires local governments to publish in the local newspaper the dollar amounts of the profession services contracts that it awards without competitive bidding.  Such notification is clearly required by state statute but many local governments simply ignore the requirement.

In early 2015, I was heartened by the Department of Community Affairs' initial decision to adopt a rule, in response to the New Jersey Libertarian Party's (NJLP) Petition for Rulemaking, that would enforce the dollar amount disclosure requirement. Unfortunately, the Division let the rule proposal expire.  The NJLP still holds on to hope and has filed another, similar Petition for Rulemaking on March 16, 2016.