Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Ethics complaint against Cumberland Freeholder and Willingboro Mayor

September 30, 2014

Patricia Parkin McNamara
Local Finance Board
101 S Broad St – PO Box 803
Trenton, NJ 08625-0803
(via e-mail only to Patricia.McNamara@dca.state.nj.us)

Dear Ms. McNamara:

We intend this e-mail to be our complaint against Douglas Long who, at all times relevant to the activities alleged below, served both as Deputy Director of the Cumberland County Board of Chosen Freeholders and also as partner in the law firm of Long, Marmero and Associates, LLP.  This complaint is also against Jacqueline Jennings who, at all times relevant to this complaint, served as Mayor of Willingboro Township in Burlington County and who had been awarded a position as the Division Head of the Office of Purchasing in Cumberland County.

In accordance with N.J.A.C. 5:35-1.1(b), following are the required elements of the complaint:

1. State the point of the Local Government Ethics Law (LGEL) alleged to be violated. 

N.J.S.A. 40A:9-22.5(a), (c) and (d).

2. State the name(s) and title(s) of the parties involved in the action and against whom the complaint is filed. 

Complainants John Paff and the New Jersey Libertarian Party and Respondents Douglas Long and Jacqueline Jennings.

3. Set forth in detail the pertinent facts surrounding the alleged violative action. 

Attached are three documents:

1. Willingboro's January 1, 2013 Reorganization Meeting Minutes.
2. Cumberland County Resolution 2013-43 passed on January 8, 2013.
3. Cumberland County Resolution 2013-78 passed on January 22, 2013.

These documents show that:

1. Jacqueline Jennings was Willingboro's mayor in 2013.
2. Jacqueline Jennings was appointed to head Cumberland County's Office of Purchasing on January 8, 2013 for a term to begin on February 1, 2013.
3. Jacqueline Jennings' appointment as head of Office of Purchasing was rescinded on January 22, 2013.  The stated reason for rescinding the resolution is because Jacqueline Jennings had secured a different position.
4. Douglas Long moved and seconded both the resolution that established and the one that rescinded Jacqueline Jennings' appointment.
5. At the time of Jacqueline Jennings' appointment, Douglas Long's law firm served as Willingboro Township's Labor Counsel.

More information and background on, see the citizen's questions and comments along with the Freeholders' responses starting at 00:14:48 on the video on-line here.

We contend that it violated the LGEL for Freeholder Douglas Long, approximately a week after his law firm had been awarded Willingboro's Labor Counsel contract, to hire Willingboro's mayor as a Division Head for Cumberland County.  We likewise contend that it violated the LGEL for Jacqueline Jennings to have participated in a meeting where a contract was given to Douglas Long's law firm when she was, on information and belief, engaged in negotiating for a position with the County for which one of the law firm's partners served as Freeholder.  We believe that the rescission of Jennings' appointment prior to it taking effect is of no moment because the LGEL also prohibits"attempts" by officials to use their positions for unwarranted gains.  See, e.g. N.J.S.A. 40A:9-22.5(c).

This appears to be a situation where both Long and Jennings at least attempted to use their positions to reward each other with taxpayers' money.  We believe that this is the type of conduct that the LGEL was intended to prohibit.  Yet, given the Board's dismissals in LFB-11-147 and LFB-11-149 (Harper) (compared to its decision to levy a $500 fine in LFB-12-012 (Costa)), we are not able to discern any workable standard used by the Board in adjudicating of LGEL cases.  Accordingly, when we perceive a possible violation, as we do here, we bring it in the form of a complaint in hopes that the Board, when issuing its decision, will help clarify the LGEL's contours and establish some predictability of its future determinations.

4. Indicate whether the complaint concerns the complainant in any way and what, if any, relationship the complainant has to the subject of the complaint. 

Complainants have no interest in or relationship to this complaint greater than any other citizen or organization who wishes for all government officers and employees to comply fully with the Local Government Ethics Law.

5. Indicate any other action previously taken in an attempt to resolve the issue and indicate whether the issue is the subject of pending litigation elsewhere. 

No other action has been taken previously in an attempt to resolve this issue and this issue is not the subject of any pending litigation. Thank you for your attention to this matter. I ask that you please acknowledge your receipt of this complaint within 30 days.

Sincerely,

/s/ John Paff, Chairman
New Jersey Libertarian Party's
Open Government Advocacy Project
P.O. Box 5424
Somerset, NJ 08875
Voice: 732-873-1251

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Threatened lawsuit seeks Bridgeton Port Authority's compliance with state law.

On September 17, 2014, I notified the Bridgeton Municipal Port Authority (Cumberland County) of my intent to file suit against it on October 6, 2014 unless the Authority commits to bringing itself into compliance with state statutes and regulations that promote public transparency and financial discipline.  I sent the Authority and its attorney a draft lawsuit (on-line here) that I intend to file unless the Authority and I can come to an alternate arrangement.

One of my complaints is that the Authority has not yet abided by a 2011 law requiring it to maintain a web site or web page from which the public can access certain documents and information.  In order to help remedy this deficiency, I obtained some important records from the Authority by way of an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request and have placed them at the following links:
2006 through 2013 Audit and Audit Compilations
2012 to 2014 Meeting Minutes and Resolutions
Authority's 2014 Legal Services invoices

Monday, September 15, 2014

Galloway Township appeals OPRA ruling

On September 4, 2014, the Township of Galloway (Atlantic County) filed its notice of appeal of a June 10, 2014 order that compelled the township to disclose a log of e-mails sent and received by the township clerk and police chief during a two-week period in 2013.

Background information on the suit is here as are the transcripts of the hearings on November 1, 2013, January 9, 2014 and June 2, 2014.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Gloucester Township discloses DPW Director police reports.

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.

According to the reports, which along with other documents are on-line here, five "Gloucester Township Clean Community" employees all gave statements that on May 5, 2014 Moffa had them go into the basement of his residence to "remove several pieces of furniture, several electronics and some trash that was damaged by flooding."  According to the report, some of the property was taken to Public Works and "discarded in township dumpsters."

A supplemental police report states that it wasn't until June 30, 2014 that Camden County Assistant Prosecutor Angela Seixas determined that criminal charges would not be brought against Moffa because its "investigation failed to disclose sufficient evidence to prove an allegation of criminal conduct beyond a reasonable doubt."   Finally, a pension determination letter discloses that Moffa was not eligible for any pension because he was employed by the Township for less than ten years as of the date of his termination.

The Township posits that its denial of my records request was proper because the investigation was still pending when my records request was received and because they are "criminal investigatory records."

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.

Blunda's letter, written to Middlesex County Assignment Judge Travis L. Francis and copied to my lawyer, Walter M. Luers of Clinton, contains a fair amount of sanctimony.  In his letter, Blunda intoned:
While some may consider re-publication of salacious details of a sexual assault to be an act of intentional infliction of emotional distress upon the victim, since the events happened more than four years ago and the criminal and civil matters have been completed, the municipality's grant of access to the record will not interfere with the judicial or criminal process. Any potential liability for further publication, or the chilling effect that it may place on future victims, falls on the Plaintiffs shoulders.
So, according to Blunda, I am intentionally inflicting "emotional distress" upon the alleged victim by seeking police reports that would disclose what, if anything, the Perth Amboy Police Department did about this alleged sexual assault.  Never mind that the alleged victim, who received a $199,000 secret settlement from the Perth Amboy Board of Education, herself put on public display in her lawsuit the same "salacious details" that Blunda now feigns an interest in protecting.

In sum, and as I reported in my earlier blog entry, Perth Amboy could have avoided this entire lawsuit had it been more candid about which records the City had on file regarding this incident.  It was only after my OPRA lawsuit was filed that the City disclosed that it only possessed one initial police report and that the matter was thereafter transferred to the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Lawsuit: Gloucester Township allegedly used threat of arrest to coerce employee to resign.

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 sought disclosure of several records, including police reports, regarding this alleged incident under OPRA and the common law right of access.  In her response, Gloucester Township Clerk Rosemary DiJosie admitted that there was an "on-going investigation" into the employee but that public disclosure of the police reports "would be inimical to the public interest."  DiJosie did, however, disclose a Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) screen shot on "Police Case # 14-019933" showing that  police were dispatched to a Township address on May 13, 2014 at about 3:30 p.m.  The "Call for Service" description on the CAD report was "Theft - All other."

Further documents received indicated that the Township entered into a "Severance Agreement and General Release" with the employee.  The agreement, which was signed on June 4, 2014, allowed for the employee to retain his paid medical benefits through July 31, 2014 and contained a covenant under which the employee gave up all rights to sue the Township.

Interestingly, the Agreement provided that the employee's date of severance from Township employment was May 12, 2014--the day before he was allegedly caught in committing an illegal act.  According to the lawsuit, the timing of his severance lent "substantial credence to several elements of the 'tipped' facts - i.e., that while 'the powers' wanted [the employee] out, they did not want to "hurt" him by jeopardizing his pension etc."

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Rural Cumberland County township adopts e-mail policy

In response to my request, the Township of Greenwich (Cumberland County) adopted an e-mail policy, on-line here, for its elected and appointed officials.  While weaker than what I would prefer, the policy "discourages" Township officials from using their personal e-mail accounts.  Instead, it requires them to adopt a free e-mail account, such as one from GMail or Yahoo, and "use a name such that they are identifiable in the contest of their role with the Township of Greenwich including by way of example and not limitation: 'townshipcommitteemansmith@gmail.com'”  It requires officials to give the Township Clerk their e-mail passwords so that e-mails may be searched "provide responsive information in compliance with State law to any document request.