Saturday, February 28, 2009

Decision in Paff v. Penns Grove

On February 10, 2009, Assignment Judge Georgia M. Curio issued a written opinion in my OPRA and OPMA case against the Borough of Penns Grove in Salem County. I was represented by Walter M. Luers.

The opinion and the closed session resolutions, revised closed session resolutions and redacted closed session meeting minutes are on-line here. All other case documents are on-line here.

In sum, Judge Curio ruled that:

a. There were "certain errors" in the resolutions that authorized the Borough Council's May 14, 2008 and May 20, 2008 executive sessions. But, the Borough Council, on November 18, 2008--well after my suit was filed--passed more descriptive resolutions that "cured" these errors. Given the Borough Council's curative resolutions, the Court declined to issue an injunction requiring the Borough Council pass sufficiently descriptive resolutions going forward.

b. That the resolutions that authorized the Council's April 1, 2008, April 15, 2008 and June 4, 2008 executive sessions were sufficiently specific.

c. After looking at the unredacted minutes (i.e. an in camera inspection), the Court held that much of the material redacted from the executive session minutes was properly redacted. But, the court also held that certain information was not lawfully redacted and ordered disclosure of: a) the names of the employees discussed on April 15, 2008, May 6, 2008, May 20, 2008 and the name of the litigation discussed on May 20, 2008. (On February 19, 2008 the lawyer for Penns Grove, Adam I. Telsey, informed me that a) the employees discussed on April 15, 2008 were Till Lerro, Jose Rosario and Vass Wiggins; b) that the employees discussed on May 6, 2008 were Till Lerro and Police Chief Gary Doubledee and c) that the litigation discussed on May 20, 2008 was USA v. Salem County, et al, Docket no. 08-CV-03726.)

d. The the way in which the Borough Clerk explained why the redactions were made, while "exceedingly brief" (i.e. statements such as "ongoing negotiations" and "ongoing potential litigation") met the "minimum requirement" of notice when they were read together with the headings above the redacted parts of the closed session minutes.

e. No civil penalties are to be assessed against the Clerk for knowingly and willfully violating the Open Public Records Act.

f. Our complaint was filed within the applicable 45-day statute of limitations.

We have not yet decided whether or not to appeal, and we will have 45 days from the date the court enters an order memorializing its decision (which hasn't happened yet) within which to file an appeal.

John Paff
Somerset, New Jersey

Friday, February 27, 2009

LFB: Files lost and "administratively closed."

I recently sent an OPRA request to the Local Finance Board (LFB) seeking information on Local Government Ethics Law violation cases from 1999 that were still marked "pending" in 2006. I was interested in these cases because I wanted to know what types of cases took seven years to investigate. At the time of my request, the LFB had not publicly disclosed the identities of the local government agencies or the complainants or the nature of the violation alleged.

Below is the response to my request. Below that is the provision in the Administrative Code that exempts the LFB's ethics investigation records from public disclosure. You'll note that there are two categories of cases identified in the responsive e-mail:

a) Cases where case files were simply lost by the LFB, or perhaps never existed in the first place. There are two cases in this category: 1) LFB Case No. 1999-26, which is John Florentino's complaint against an unknown party--probably a Roselle Borough (Union County) official; 2) LFB Case No. 1999-18 for which no information is available.

b) Cases that have been "administratively closed." The LFB takes the position that these case files are not public because "the cases were not adjudicated by the [Local Finance] Board."

Interestingly, the LFB takes the position that the complainant is under a duty to keep pushing for resolution of his or her case, and that failure of the complainant to do so will eventually result in the case's administrative closure.

One example of this is Case 1999-01 against some unnamed official in Bridgeton City (Cumberland County). As you can see from the LFB's reply, City officials did not reply to the LFB's written requests for information, failed to respond to a subpoena and apparently didn't appear for a scheduled hearing. Yet, instead of exposing Bridgeton officials to consequences for their failures to respond, the LFB just dropped the matter because, apparently, the original complainant didn't pursue it.

As another example, see Cases 1999-31 and 1999-32 against Asbury Park City (Monmouth County). Apparently, the LFB decided to postpone the ethics charges pending resolution of criminal charges brought against some of the officials who faced ethics charges. Apparently, the LFB did not check to determine when and how the criminal charges were resolved. Instead, the LFB waited, and is apparently still waiting, for the original complainants to again "press the complaints" after the criminal litigation concluded. So, it is possible that Asbury Park officials who either did not face criminal charges or were acquitted of those charges never had to face the ethics charges because the complainants, for whatever reason, weren't motivated to "press" their cases, perhaps years after having filed them.

Finally, I wish to comment on Case 1999-23, where "Robert Czech" filed a complaint against his former municipal employer and then, perhaps, withdrew his complaint. Since the matter was never adjudicated by the LFB, the LFB considers the file "closed to public access." It doesn't seem to me that the complainant, simply by electing to withdraw his or her complaint, should have the power to keep the matter out of public view. Such would allow a complainant to accept an under-the-table incentive in exchange for his or her withdrawal of a complaint and thus keeping the LFB from dealing with (and public from learning about) unethical conduct by public officials.

John Paff
Somerset, New Jersey

--------------------------------

Dear Mr. Paff:

This is in response to your OPRA Request W41317. You are more than welcome to come in a review files; however, we must advise you that upon researching your request, we discovered circumstances that result in files not being available as explained below.

Since 1999, our Ethics Staff has experienced several staff changes, several directors, and several changes in off-site storage locations. Given that we have not been able to find the files, we have concluded that the combination of those circumstances has resulted in the regrettable loss of several files or incomplete information for others. Given this situation, plus decisions made at given points of time when the Board was backlogged with cases, decisions were made to "administratively close" older cases where complainant had not been in contact with the staff. Thus, while the case was closed as it would not be pursued, the record is closed for public access as the cases were not adjudicated by the Board.

With regard to your specific request, we have ascertained the following circumstances:

1999-1 Bridgeton, In March 2000 a subpoena was send to the Zoning Board Secretary in Bridgeton for minutes and a date of appearance before the LFB was to be 5-10-00. There was no response to the previous written requests for information or the subpoena and no follow-up from any party. It was not handled again after that and has been marked administratively closed and not available for review.

1999-18 This file has been missing for years and there is no record of it on any agenda. It was most likely found to be logged in incorrectly (i.e., it may have a request for an advisory opinion) and never taken off the report. As it was logged in, it was marked closed on the most recent OPRA report provided to you.

1999-23 This one, from Robert Czech is against a former municipal employer. It was investigated and the employer responded, however, the matter was never considered by the Board. While there is no written record on the point, staff believes that the complainant withdrew the complaint. As the case did not proceed to the Board for adjudication, the file remains closed to public access.

1999-26 This regards a complaint from former employee of the Borough Roselle, John Florentino. The file cannot be located, the case never went to the Board, and under these circumstances, the complaint was administratively closed.

1999-31 and 32 Both cases concern the City of Asbury Park, and were related to other complaints against City officials by the same complainants during that time period. It is our understanding that several officials who were the target of the complaints were also subject to criminal complaints. Our records show that these two cases were tabled by the Board pending outcome of the litigation. The cases were never formerly closed. Staff recalls that other cases involving Asbury Park were closed as a result of the litigation; the complainants did not follow-up to press the complaints once the litigation was resolved.

Notwithstanding the foregoing, all of the remaining closed files from 2000 forward are available for your review

We look forward to seeing you Wednesday afternoon.

Marc Pfeiffer, Records Custodian
NJ Division of Local Government Services
101 South Broad Street
PO Box 803
Trenton NJ 08625
---------------------------------------------
N.J.A.C. 5:35-1.2 Confidentiality

(a) Any complaints, statements, information, or documents obtained or prepared by the Board staff or the Board are deemed confidential and not subject to public disclosure during the course of the preliminary investigation or investigation to determine whether a violation of the Local Government Ethics Law has occurred, except as necessary for the Board's staff or the Board to conduct the preliminary investigation or investigation.

(b) The Board's discussion regarding a preliminary investigation or investigation shall be in executive session. However, any vote by the Board regarding a preliminary investigation or investigation shall be in public session. In public session, the complaint shall only be identified by a docket number, determined by the Board's staff.

(c) The Notice, the complaint and allied statements or information obtained by the Board's staff during the course of the preliminary investigation or investigation are subject to public disclosure 30 days after mailing a Notice of Dismissal, pursuant to 5:35-1.1(h), or a Notice of Violation, pursuant to 5:35-1.1(i).

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Local Finance Board Advisory Opinions now on-line

As a public service, the New Jersey Libertarian Party’s Open Government Advocacy Project has uploaded the New Jersey Local Finance Board's “advisory opinions” to the Internet. Click here.

These are the official opinions that the Board has issued whenever a mayor, council member or other official has inquired whether his or her conduct would violate the Local Government Ethics Law.

I have converted all the paper-copy opinions that the State provided to text-searchable documents. I believe that this is the first time that these opinions have been made available to the public on the Internet.

I hope readers find this useful.

John Paff
Somerset, New Jersey

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Riverside asked to improve its "sunshine" compliance

I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party’s Open Government Advocacy Project. The Project’s goal is to encourage local governments around New Jersey to fully comply with the Open Public Records Act, Sen. Byron M. Baer Open Public Meetings Act and other laws that foster open and transparent government.

Today, I wrote to Mayor George Conard and the Riverside Township Committee asking if they will: a) more precisely describe the topics that the Township Committee discussed in executive session, and b) make draft copies of the Committee's executive session meeting minutes more promptly available to the public. My letter (and the Township Committee's August 18, 2008 and September 15, 2008) executive meeting minutes) are online here.

John Paff
Somerset, New Jersey

LFB Ethics Complaint Roster now on-line

As I stated in a February 7, 2009 post, the vast majority of municipalities in New Jersey do not have their own ethics boards. So, any citizen complaints alleging that local officials in these municipalities violate the Local Government Ethics Law are handled at the state level--by the Local Finance Board (LFB).

Today, in response to my OPRA request, the Local Finance Board provided me with a redacted listing referencing each complaint the LFB has processed since January 1, 1999. I spent a couple of hours today converting the paper list to an Excel spreadsheet and have uploaded it here.

For those who don't have Excel, I've also put a PDF version here.

As you can see, the vast majority of the unredacted entries are marked "Closed" and only two entries are marked "violation." It is hard to draw any conclusions on this data without seeing the LFB's case files. Anyone who wishes to OPRA any of the files on the listing can submit an electronic request to the "Department of Community Affairs" - "Division of Local Government Services" here.

John Paff
Somerset, New Jersey

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Order issued in Paff v. Keyport

On February 13, 2009, Monmouth County Assignment Judge Lawrence M. Lawson issued a final order resolving my Open Public Records Act and Open Public Meetings Act case against the Keyport Borough (Monmouth County) Council. The order and other significant case documents are on-line here.

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

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Another attorney weighs in on "effective majority" question

On January 19, 2009, I wrote to the High Bridge (Hunterdon County) Mayor and Borough Council asking how meetings of the Council's three-member committees (e.g. the Planning & Engineering Committee) are held in a manner consistent with the Open Public Meetings Act.

My letter and Borough Attorney Barry S. Goodman's February 13, 2009 are on-line here.

In sum, Mr. Goodman states:

1. An "effective majority" and a "quorum" of the Borough Council are synonymous and that the Riya Finnegan v. Township Council case (i.e. a case that I cited that suggests that the two terms are not synonymous) does not convince him otherwise.

2. If one or more members of the Borough Council who are not members of a Council committee wished to attend a Council committee meeting, such that the total number of council members present would exceed three, then the committee meeting would be advertised and the public would be allowed to attend.

So, it would appear that a member of the High Bridge Borough Council could, if he or she wanted to, announce an intention to attend each and every meeting of any Council committee of which he or she was not already a member, and thus require each of those committee meetings (provided that at least four Council members will be in attendance) to be advertised and open to the public. It strikes me that this is exactly what a member of the Borough Council who wishes to promote governmental openness and transparency ought to do.

Monday, February 16, 2009

More on "effective majority" question

I received a very thoughtful letter from Andover Township (Sussex County) attorney Fred Semrau in response to my questions about how meetings of committees of the Township Committee interplay with the requirements of the Sen. Byron M. Baer Open Public Meetings Act. The correspondence is on-line here.

Mr. Semrau concluded that a) the OPMA would be violated if the members of a committee were to later constitute a majority of the entire governing body voting on the committee's recommendations, and b) a committee cannot exclude another member of the governing body from attending a committee meeting even if that resulted in the committee meeting being advertised as a public meeting.

I urge readers to send the correspondence at the link above to their own municipal governing bodies. I believe that the fact that a municipal attorney has reviewed these issues and commented on them will lead other municipalities to also review and perhaps revise their policies regarding committee meetings.

I think that Mr. Semrau's letter would be of particular interest to political minorities on municipal governing bodies. For example, if you live in a borough where five Republicans and two Democrats serve as the Mayor and Council, Mr. Semrau's letter may assist the two Democrats convince the Republican majority that they (i.e. the Democrats) have a right to attend Council committee meetings even if it means that the committee meetings will then have to be advertised and opened to the public.

If one or more members of the political minority were to make it their practice to attend EVERY committee meeting, that could have the effect of opening EVERY committee meeting to the public--which I believe would be a very desirable outcome.

John Paff
Somerset, New Jersey

Thursday, February 12, 2009

RE: Penns Grove Councilwoman's forfeiture of office

I wrote a letter to Judge David E. Krell, the presiding judge of all the municipal court judges in Cumberland, Salem and Gloucester Counties, asking for his opinion on whether the Westville Municipal Court properly followed state law when it convicted Penns Grove Borough Councilwoman Tami Baytops of "electioneering" in November 2007.

My letter is on-line here and I will supplement that link with Judge Krell's response, if I receive one.

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

"Effective Majority" argument causes reduction in council committee size

As you can see from the article below, the Spring Lake Heights (Monmouth County) Borough Council has reduced the size of its committees from three to two in order to better comply with the OPMA's "effective majority" requirement. My letter to the Borough Administrator, which is referenced in the article, is on-line here.

I suppose that this is progress, but my primary goal is not to reduce the size of council committees but to get council committees, regardless of their size, to open their meetings to the public. It is not unusual for important deliberations to occur at a private committee meeting, only to have the issue voted upon--with little or no debate--at a subsequent public meeting. The OPMA intends to provide the public with insight into the deliberations and policy formulation--not just an opportunity to witness a formal vote on an issue that has already been decided.

Still, the fact that Spring Lake Heights has determined that three-member council committees violates OPMA might help readers urge their own municipalities to review their own committee structures. If you live in a municipality where the governing body's committees are staffed with an "effective majority" of the body's members, you may wish to send a copy of the following article to your mayor and council and ask if they agree or disagree with Spring Lake Heights' position.

John Paff
Somerset, New Jersey

------------------------------------
Council committees to be reduced in size

By Brian O'Keefe

The Coast Star

Thurs., Feb. 12

At Monday night’s meeting, the Spring Lake Heights mayor and council discussed a concern about three-member council committees that was raised by John Paff, the chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Party’s Open Government Advocacy Project.

In a Jan. 16 letter to Borough Administrator Theresa Casagrande, Mr. Paff asked what the borough would do if one additional council member decided to attend the meeting of a committee composed of three members.

Those four council members would constitute an “effective majority,” he said, citing a 2006 New Jersey Superior Court decision in a lawsuit against the South Brunswick Council.

The judge in that case ruled that three members of a nine-member planning board constitute an effective majority, because five members make a quorum, and three members form a majority of that quorum, according to Mr. Paff.

If an effective majority of council members attend a committee meeting, that would require that the public be allowed to attend the meeting, advanced notice be given of the meeting and that minutes be taken, Mr. Paff said.

The Spring Lake Heights Council has two committees that consist of three members: the personnel committee and the interlocal/shared services committee.

Mr. Paff also stated that he believed it would violate state law if council members were not allowed to attend meetings of committees of which they are not members, if the reason for prohibiting their attendance were to avoid the formation of an effective majority.

Restricting attendance in that way would constitute a failure to invite some council members to the committee meeting “for the purpose of circumventing the provisions of [OPMA],” which is specifically prohibited in OPMA, Mr. Paff wrote.

Councilwoman Kathleen Crippen said Mr. Paff believes three council members should not discuss any business together, outside of an open public meeting.

She said she agreed that “three’s a crowd,” and that if three council members were to come to a consensus during such a meeting, they could become an effective majority by swaying another council member or the mayor to their position.

Borough Attorney Frederick C. Raffetto suggested that one member of each of the three-member committees could voluntarily step down in order to avoid the problems raised by Mr. Paff.

Mayor H. Frances Enright said she agreed with that approach, and asked council members to decide among themselves who will step down from the two, three-member committees.

Mr. Paff also mentioned in his letter to Ms. Casagrande “an interesting and novel theory” by Rutherford Mayor John Hipp, who has suggested that it only takes two council members to form an effective majority.

According to Mr. Paff, Mayor Hipp argues that because the mayor and three council members constitute a quorum, and the mayor can only vote to break a tie, it would only take the votes of two of the council members to pass a motion, meaning two members are an effective majority.

The council did not address that argument during their discussion.

Woodstown now has written contracts with its solicitor

On July 9, 2008, I wrote to Mayor Pfeffer and the Woodstown Borough (Salem County) Council questioning the legality of the Borough not having a written contract with George G. Rosenberger, Jr., the Borough Solicitor. On February 10, 2009, I asked Borough Clerk Cynthia Dalessio for the Mayor and Council's response to my July 9, 2008 letter.

By letter dated February 10, 2009, Clerk Dalessio informed me that a) my July 9, 2008 letter was never received by the Borough yet b) on July 22, 2008--shortly after my July 9, 2008 was sent--the Borough entered into two written contracts with its solicitor---one covering 2007 and the other covering 2008.

All the correspondence, together with three contracts with the solicitor (including 2009's) are here.


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

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Appellate Panel hears argument in secret settlement agreement case

On February 10, 2009, attorney Walter Luers appeared before a three judge Appellate Division panel representing me in my Open Public Records Act case against Monmouth County. We are seeking reversal of Judge Jamie S. Perri's February 14, 2008 ruling that the public is not entitled to see a settlement agreement between Monmouth County and a female employee who sued county officials for sexual harassment. The Appellate panel consisted of Judges Skillman, Grall and Ashrafi.

Luers' brief, Perri's order and a newspaper article that gives background on the sexual harassment case are on-line here.

John Paff
Somerset, New Jersey

Monday, February 9, 2009

Lawnside Police Manual

As a public service, the New Jersey Libertarian Party has uploaded the Police Manual for the Borough of Lawnside (Camden County) to the Internet. The manual outlines the rights and duties of officers and sets forth the department's disciplinary policy. It is available by clicking here.

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

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Sample of Pilesgrove Executive Minutes on-line

I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks more openness and accountability from government, especially at the local level.

I submitted an OPRA request to Pilesgrove Township for some of the Township Committee's resolutions that authorize the exclusion of the public from Committee meetings (i.e. to go into closed or executive session) and for some of the Committee's recent closed or executive meeting minutes. As a public service, I've put those resolutions and minutes on-line here.

In my view, citizens shouldn't have to submit OPRA requests for their Township Committee's closed or executive resolutions or meeting minutes. Rather, since this is quintessential public information, the Mayor and Committee ought to putting this information on the Township's Internet site as a matter of course.

But, the Township's on-line minutes library, which is available here is woefully out of date as of the date of this posting--February 8, 2009. The most recent set of minutes available on that site are from March 25, 2008--which is nearly a year ago. And, even if one looks in the "archived" minutes here there are no closed or executive minutes at all. Rather, only public meeting minutes are posted.

I have brought these deficiencies to Mayor Miller's and Deputy Mayor Kille's attention (Committeewoman Reardon's e-mail address is not listed on the Township's Internet site) and have sent each of them an e-mail advising them of the location of a similar posting I put on the Penn Jersey forum and inviting them to publicly respond to it.

Very truly yours,

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

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Supplement: How can we get the Local Finance Board to enforce the ethics law?

I have submitted the following two OPRA requests to the Local Finance Board in an attempt to document the Board's poor performance.

John Paff
Somerset, New Jersey

----Request Confirmation No. W41209

BACKGROUND: A May 30, 2008 article in the Record "Oury failed to file required disclosures, clerk says," reported that Bergenfield Borough Clerk Catherine Navarro-Steinel had written "a letter to the Local Finance Board, a branch of the state Department of Community Affairs, Steinel wrote, 'Will your division please take corrective action on those that have not filed for years.'” She was referring to the failure of Dennis J. Oury "a politically connected lawyer" to file Financial Disclosure Statements for five out of six years. For a copy of the article, click here. The object of this request is to see if the Local Finance Board ignored Clerk Navarro-Steinel in the same manner as they have ignored my similar requests.

RECORDS REQUEST: 1. Copies of Clerk Navarro-Steinel's letter to the Board, as described above, and any follow up letters. 2. Any and all responses from or on behalf of the Board to Clerk Navarro-Steinel's letters.

----Request Confirmation No. W41199

BACKGROUND: On March 18, 2008, I filed a complaint with the Local Finance Board against four members of the Penns Grove Borough Council for failure to file their 2007 Financial Disclosure Statements. On February 2, 2009, I received a response from the Local Finance Board advising me that a) three of the four members I had complained against (Bercute, Ownsby and Poindexter) had made their past-due filings within a few days or a couple of weeks after my complaint was filed causing my complaint against these members to be dismissed on November 12, 2008, and b) one member--Councilwoman Mincey--had not yet filed her Statement and that as such, my complaint against her "is still pending." I am curious to learn how many times your office has contacted Councilwoman Mincey attempting to get her to file her 2007 Statement or to otherwise resolve this matter.

RECORDS REQUEST: I'd like copies of any correspondence a) sent by the Local Finance Board or its staff to Councilwoman Mincey regarding the issues raised in my March 18, 2008 complaint and b) received by the Local Finance Board or its staff from Councilwoman Mincey or someone on her behalf regarding the issues raised in my March 18, 2008 complaint.

How can we get the Local Finance Board to enforce the ethics law?

The vast majority of municipalities in New Jersey do not have their own ethics boards. So, any citizen complaints alleging that local officials in these municipalities violate the Local Government Ethics Law are handled at the state level--by the Local Finance Board (LFB).

The Legislature passed the Local Government Ethics Law because “[t]he vitality and stability of representative democracy depend upon the public's confidence in the integrity of its elected and appointed representatives.” N.J.S.A. 40A:9-22.2(b). One of the law’s provisions require local officials to publicly reveal their income sources so that citizens can detect possible conflicts of interest. The reporting is done on Financial Disclosure Statements which every local government officer must file before April 30th of each year. I've placed examples of the Statements on-line here.

Over the past several years, I have filed several complaints with the LFB after discovering through OPRA requests that local officials either have not filed their Statements at all or that they have omitted relevant and important information from their Statements.

After conducting exceedingly long "investigations," the LFB has dismissed each and every one of my complaints. The way it works is that during its "investigations," which typically take about a year to complete, the LFB invites the officials I complain about to file their delinquent Financial Disclosure Statements. After the delinquent Statements are filed--sometimes years after they were originally due--the LFB notifies me that my complaint has been "dismissed [because] it no longer has a reasonable factual basis." For an example of this, see the LFB's June 4, 2004 response to my August 5, 2003 complaint that Haddon Heights (Camden County) Municipal Prosecutor Stuart Alterman failed to file timely Financial Disclosure Statements. That letter is on-line here.

It is clear, at least to me, that the LFB's procedure, which a) gives a non-filing official a heads-up when a citizen complains, and b) dismisses the citizen's complaint after the delinquent Statement is filed, is an illusory "enforcement" mechanism that actually invites continued noncompliance with the filing requirements. In sum, why should a local official file a timely Financial Disclosure Statement when a) the filing will only be "required" in the unlikely event that a citizen files a formal complaint, and b) there is no penalty for the original delinquency?

After having encountered several similar dismissals, I wrote an opinion piece for The Observer, a weekly newspaper that circulates in Union County. The piece, which ran on August 7, 2006, is highly critical of the LFB and is available for download here.

On August 19, 2006, I sent a copy of the Observer piece to every member of the Local Finance Board and the LFB's Executive Director asking that they please consider enforcing the Local Government Ethics Law with more vigor. I received no acknowledgment or response to my letter, the mail-merge template of which is on-line here.

Unfortunately, nothing has changed and the LFB is still adhering to its existing "dismissal-after-the-tardy-filing" policy. On March 18, 2008, I filed a complaint against four members of the Penns Grove (Salem County) Borough Council who did not file their Financial Disclosure Statements that were due April 30, 2007. In other word, the four officials against whom I complained were nearly a year late in filing their required forms. In its February 2, 2009 response--nearly eleven months after its receipt of my complaint--the LFB informed me that a) three of the four members I had complained against had made their past-due filings after my complaint was filed causing my complaint against them to be "dismissed" on November 12, 2008, and b) one member--Councilwoman Mincey--had not yet filed her Statement and that as such, my complaint against her "is still pending." The LFB's February 2, 2009 letter is on-line here. I am curious to learn what, if anything, the LFB will do to Councilwoman Mincey if she decides to never file her required Financial Disclosure Statement.

At this point, I really don't know what else to do except to continue to announce that the Local Finance Board simply is not an effective enforcer of the Local Government Ethics Law. I have informed my state legislators of the problem and hopefully one of them is willing to intercede.

If anyone has any suggestions as to how to get traction on this issue, please let me know.

John Paff
Somerset, New Jersey

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Update on Atlantic County lawsuit.

As previously reported, on October 3, 2008 I filed a civil complaint against seventeen Atlantic County municipalities in order to address their noncompliance with the Open Public Records Act and the Sen. Byron M. Baer Open Public Meetings Act .

Since then, I have negotiated Consent Judgments with the following municipalities: Buena Vista Township, Egg Harbor City, Folsom Borough, Margate City, Mullica Township and Northfield City

Those Consent Judgments are available for download here.

John Paff
Somerset, New Jersey