Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Galloway Township OPRA request

I sent the following records request to Galloway Township (Atlantic County). I appears that some deal regarding the Township Clerk was arranged behind closed doors and that the Township is seeking to keep the details away from the public.

The newspaper articles mention in the request are on-line here and here

John Paff

Please accept this e-mail as my request for government records in accordance with the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) and the common law right of access. Please respond and send all responsive documents to me via e-mail at paff@pobox.com. If e-mail is not possible, please fax responses and responsive records to me at 908-325-0129. Also, I would appreciate it if you would acknowledge your receipt of this e-mail.

Background:

In an earlier request, I asked for minutes of the July 18, 2011 Township Council closed session. I asked for these minutes after readings two Patch articles ("Galloway Township Appoints New Clerk" on August 23, 2011 and "Lisa Tilton Resigns as Township Clerk as Part of Deal Reached Monday Night" on July 19, 2011). A copy of my request and the Township's response is on-line here.

From reading those article, I learned that outstanding disciplinary charges against Tilton would be dropped in exchange for her resigning effective October 3, 2011. In addition to paying Tilton $3,800 for her attorney fees, the agreement "called for all charges pending against her to be dismissed with prejudice and expunged in exchange for her resignation." She will also receive a "neutral reference . . . when contacted by potential employers, including to state she resigned in good standing." This deal was hammered out during a seven hour executive session from which Mayor Hartman recused himself part of the way through.

According to the resolution that authorized the July 18, 2011 closed meeting, there were two issues to be discussed privately: a) "Township Clerk" and b) Chief Financial Officer." According to the resolution, the discussion related to the Clerk would only be publicly revealed as follows: "If employee is terminated, redacted minutes may be available in 60 days. If employee is not terminated, only pursuant to Court Order." For the private discussion related to the CFO, the discussion, as recorded in the minutes, would be release "only pursuant to Court Order."

The July 19, 2011 Patch article indicates that both Tilton and Township Manager Steve Bonanni received Rice notices. And, Deputy Mayor Don Purdy is quoted as saying that the issues involving Tilton and Bonanni "were handled simultaneously because the issues were intertwined. “One had to do with the other,” Purdy said. “We had to talk about Steve because Lisa brought him into it.”

Yet, the July 18, 2011 closed session resolution doesn't mention any issue involving Bonanni that needed to be privately discussed, so it is confusing as to how his issues, whatever they are, were legitimately discussed in closed session.

From what I've read so far, it appears that there was some major controversy that was settled, with taxpayer money, of course, that the Township is now seeking to keep secret. I would like for you to remember that the taxpayers--the ones who are footing the bill for all this drama--have a right to know the real story as to what's going on so that they can determine whether the Mayor and Council acted wisely and appropriately in making this deal with Tilton. These taxpayers vote, and they need to have information on what really happened so that they are fully informed when they cast their votes. My intent is to get the records that reveal what really happened and post them on the Internet so that the voting public can review them.

If you review the South Jersey Publishing case that is cited in your resolution, you might come to the conclusion--as I have--that at the very least, redacted versions of the July 18, 2011 closed meeting should be disclosed. Your decision to completely suppress the minutes until October 3, 2011 "with approval from the Solicitor and Council" appears to be out of step with the South Jersey Publishing ruling.

Be advised that if you continue to withhold the information I seek, I will likely litigate this matter.

Records Requested:

1. Minutes of the July 18, 2011 closed Council meeting, redacted as narrowly as possible, if at all.

2. Rice notice sent to Tilton

3. Rice notice sent to Bonanni

4. Tilton's written response to Rice Notice, if any.

5. Bonanni's written response to Rice Notice, if any.

6. Settlement agreement with Tilton.

7. Disciplinary charges against Tilton, and her or her lawyer's written responses to those charges, redacted as narrowly as possible, if at all.

Thank you!

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