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.

As previously announced, my Attorney Rick Gutman and I appeared before the Hon. Kathryn A. Brock at the Union County Courthouse on Friday, April 30th, to argue entitlement to a surveillance video that reportedly showed former Garwood Police Officer (and brother of a Union County Freeholder) Gennaro J. Mirabella entering the locked office of Garwood's Chief Financial Officer and opening her desk drawers. The hearing lasted nearly three hours.

We lost on our Open Public Records Act claim because Judge Brock held that the tape is exempt a) as a "criminal investigative record" and b) because disclosure may improperly reveal security measures and surveillance techniques.

As a result of a March 19, 2010 request from the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project (OGAP), the City of Clifton has assigned official "" e-mail addresses to Mayor and City Council members. Previously, the Mayor and Council were using their personal e-mail (e.g. Yahoo or Gmail) addresses for City business.

On April 17, 2010, the Express-Times published an article on Warren County school board's refusal to publicize its meeting agendas until ten minutes before the start of the meeting. I am quoted in the article as a representative of the New Jersey Libertarian Party.

"When you announce your agenda in advance, it gives people an opportunity to research the issues and come to the meeting prepared with cogent comments and questions," said John Paff, who chairs the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project.

By DEREK HARPER Staff Writer, Press of Atlantic City

Municipalities and schools will no longer be able to charge more for copies of public records than what it costs to copy them, a state appeals court recently ruled.

Open-records advocates applauded the decision.

“You couldn’t possibly say the cost comes out to 75 cents a page” said John Paff, chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Party’s Open Government Advocacy Project. “As a libertarian, I know government is inefficient, but I would hope that New Jersey governments can produce a photocopy at least within 10 times the cost of a private vendor.”

Read the full article...

I recently settled my civil suit against the Lumberton Township (Burlington County) Committee that demanded prompter public access to the nonexempt portions of its executive session minutes. My lawsuit and the settlement agreement are on-line here. The following is an article on the settlement that appeared in today's Burlington County Times.

Lumberton agrees to quick release meeting minutes
By: Mark Zimmaro
Burlington County Times

The Township Committee has agreed to make the minutes from its executive sessions available to the public in a more prompt manner.

A civil lawsuit filed in State Superior Court by John Paff, Chair of the NJ Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project, accused the Lumberton Township Committee of withholding minutes from their meetings that occur behind closed doors.

Read the full story...

On September 13, 2009 I posted concerning the City of Margate's (Atlantic County) policy of requiring its officers and employees who use e-mail for municipal business to use their "" e-mail addresses and not their personal e-mail addresses (e.g.,,, etc.). That posting is on my blog.

Today, I learned that the Township of Andover (Sussex County) has drafted--but not yet implemented--a more comprehensive policy designed to a) ensure that all official e-mails are preserved on the Township's server and b) prevent e-mail conversation from becoming "meetings" as defined by the Sen. Byron M. Baer Open Public Meetings Act. That draft policy is on-line here.

While it's not perfect, Andover's draft policy is the best I've seen so far. Readers may want to forward it to their own municipalities and school boards and suggest that they adopt something similar.

The Courier Post recently picked up on an issue uncovered by the NJ Libertarian Party Open Government Taskforce.

LAWNSIDE — The borough and a local police officer have settled a discrimination suit for $350,000, court papers show.

Carmen Chapman, who became Lawnside's first female police officer in 2002, alleged in her federal suit that she was harassed by a superior and that she faced "irrational and arbitrary" discipline. Chapman also contended she was treated differently than other officers, notably after sustaining a disabling knee injury.

Carmen's complaint and the settlement were posted online by the Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project.

John Paff, a representative of the project, said the settlement requires both Chapman and the borough to refrain from disclosing the agreement's terms.

Read the full story...

I posted the following today on a few blogs. It's a bit unsettling because it my research reveals that, in addition to the police abuse matter, two Atlantic City officers, while on duty, gave an underage female a strong painkiller (Tramadol) and then went into a nightclub with her where she drank alcohol.

While the Press of Atlantic City reported that the officers were suspended without pay because of the incident, there is no indication that any criminal charges were filed against the officers. It would appear that giving a non-prescribed drug to an twenty-year old violates the criminal code.

On June 2, 2009, the Open Government Advocacy Project filed a complaint with the Hasbrouck Heights (Bergen County) Ethical Standards Board alleging that twenty-six Borough officials failed to file the Financial Disclosure Statements that were due on April 30, 2008.

I recently was informed that the Ethical Standards Board will meet on August 10, 2009 to "determine the penalty that shall be imposed upon those who were charged with respect to violation of the 2008 Financial Disclosure Statement." The meeting, which will start at 8 p.m. and be held at Borough Hall, 320 Boulevard, is open to the public.

The officials could each be fined between $100 and $500.

The complaint and notice of the meeting are on-line at

John Paff, Chair
New Jersey Libertarian Party's
Open Government Advocacy Project

The North Plainfield Citizens for Community Rights (NPCCR) has submitted a petition to the North Plainfield Borough Council that will force a "Sunshine" referendum to the ballot. The referendum, if approved by the voters, will require the Borough government to be much more open and transparent. A copy of the petition is on-line a here.

The NPCCR was able to do this because North Plainfield has a form of government chartered under the Optional Municipal Charter Law of 1950 (OMCL), also known as the Faulkner Act. All such forms of government allow citizens to bypass their elected officials and put binding laws on the ballot for voter approval.

More information on the OMCL and an unverified list of municipalities that have Faulkner charters are, respectively, at the following links:

Readers living in a Faulkner municipality should consider petitioning for a referendum similar to North Plainfield's. Those living in a non-Faulkner municipality should consider petitioning for adoption of a Faulkner charter (see N.J.S.A. 40:69A-1 et seq.)

John Paff
Somerset, New Jersey

The Sen. Byron M. Baer Open Public Meetings Act (N.J.S.A. 10:4-14) requires public bodies to make their meeting minutes "promptly available." But, what does this mean?

Here are the cases that I know about that shed some light on this question.

Following is the text of a letter I sent to the Government Records Council today following up on my earlier requests for a rule change allowing records requestors to submit requests on either the agency's specific request form or the GRC's model request form. The letter, with attachments, is on-line HERE.

In a March 25, 2009 letter, the High Bridge (Hunterdon County) Board of Education agreed that its committees (e.g. Policy Committee, Personnel Committee, etc.) will now take minutes of their meetings. This change was made in response to a March 6, 2009 request from the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project. The request and the response are available HERE.

Readers may wish to submit an OPRA request for the minutes of their local school boards' committee meetings. If they find that the committees do not take minutes of their meetings (i.e. if the OPRA request is answered "there are no responsive records") they may wish to send the correspondence at the above link to the board members and ask that they consider adopting the High Bridge Board's procedure.

In a published decision released today (March 17, 2009), the Appellate Division held that the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) did not permit Monmouth County to withhold from the public an agreement that the county entered into to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit. The Appellate Division also ruled that the Asbury Park Press and I, who had filed separate OPRA lawsuits seeking access to the settlement agreement, were entitled to recover our attorney fees from the county. I was represented by attorney Walter Luers at both the trial court and the appellate levels.

The decision is on-line at NJ Judiciary website.