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.

I have been informed by the Republican Club of Pennsauken Township (Camden County) that the Township is seeking to pass a very restrictive ordinance regulating the use of cameras to video record public Township Committee meetings.

One of the provisions of the proposed ordinance requires that citizens who record meetings, shall, at the end of the meeting, give the original recording to the Clerk for duplication and that the original can be picked up by the citizen within five business days of the meeting.

In an August 4, 2011 decision, Bergen County Superior Assignment Court Judge Peter E. Doyne considered, among other issues, the question of public officials using private e-mails to discuss public business. Judge Doyne ultimately concluded that using personal e-mail accounts for public business "appears highly questionable" and "order[ed] counsel for [the municipality] to circulate a memorandum among all pertinent Borough employees directing they use only their public e-mail accounts, rather than private accounts, when conducting town business."

A good way for Libertarians to embark on getting involved in local government is to serve as a member of an appointed board. In order to find out what boards have vacancies, submit the following OPRA request to your municipal clerk:

An Open Government Forum was held in Hunterdon County on Thursday. Three of the four panelists are NJLP members. The forum was reported on by Lehigh Valley Live:

Open-records advocate John Paff estimates 80 percent of governing bodies in New Jersey knowingly or unknowingly fail to follow portions of the Open Public Meetings Act.

"I don’t think the system works very well," Paff said, a Libertarian from Somerset County who has waged numerous open records fights. "We're it. We're the enforcement."

Paff was one of four panelists taking part in an open government meeting Thursday at the Historic Hunterdon County Court House in Flemington.

Read the full story on the Lehigh Valley Live Website.

The public comment portion of a Mount Laurel Board of Education meeting (the date of the meeting is not known) is below.

The comments are from students and parents praising and supporting certain teachers. By sliding the timer to 6:15, viewers will witness the board's determination that since the speakers are all making similar comments, future speakers will be ejected from the meeting unless the topics of their comments are "different" than what the board has already heard.

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 role of the project in uncovering why the Township Manager was dismissed.

See Numerous Problems Led to Former Township Manager's Dismissal.

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.

Read the full article here...