Thursday, July 2, 2009

Hillside "Sunshine Ordinance" Compliance Date Extended

On September 8, 2008, the Township of Hillside (Union County) enacted a local "Sunshine" ordinance requiring it to become much more open and transparent. The ordinance was "voluntarily" passed by the Township Council after the filing of a citizen initiative petition, spearheaded by Councilwoman Shelley Ann Bates, that sought to force the ordinance to the ballot. (Hillside has a "Faulkner" form of government, so citizens can, by petition, bypass their elected officials and put ordinances directly on the ballot.)

After realizing that the ordinance's effective date had passed and that the Township had done virtually nothing to implement it, I wrote to the Mayor and Council on June 22, 2009 threatening to file suit unless immediate steps were taken to implement the ordinance.

On July 1, 2009, the Township Attorney informed me that on June 23, 2009, the day after my lawsuit threat was received, the Township Council introduced an amendment that will extend the Township's compliance date to September 8, 2009.

The stated justification for the extension is that implementing the ordinance "will require the expenditure of substantial sums of money" and that the "continuing global financial and economic crises" require further evaluation of the "manner and timing in which which the various components of the Ordinance are to financed and implemented so as to to ensure that the Township is not overburdened with unreasonable, irresponsible or unanticipated costs . . ."

The Township Attorney also informed me that Councilwoman Bates will take over as chair of the previously inactive committee that is tasked with overseeing the ordinance's implementation.

The ordinance to extend the Township's compliance deadline is set for final reading and passage on July 7, 2009 at 7 PM. My threatened lawsuit letter, the proposed amendment and the ordinance as enacted are on-line here.

John Paff
Somerset, New Jersey

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