Friday, September 30, 2011

Do two OPRA requests constitute harassment?

At the May 10, 2011 Runnemede (Camden County) Board of Education executive session, Board Attorney Philip E. Stern, Esq. said that he would contact me and another citizen "requesting that [we] cease and desist [filing OPRA requests] under possible charges of harassment." The minutes of the closed meeting, which I learned about just today, are available on the Board's site as well as here.

According to the minutes, I and two other citizens were filing Open Public Records Act (OPRA) requests "in an effort to find some information to support [a] suspicion . . . that some fraud or unethical events occurred." Board attorney Phillip Stern opined that "the volume and nature [of the OPRA requests] has been expanding and interferes with the ability to administer the district."

I confess that I am guilty as charged. I filed two OPRA requests with the Board--on April 7, 2011 and May 7, 2011--in an attempt to find out why the Board entered into a settlement agreement with its former business administrator and gave her a seven-month paid leave of absence at her annual salary of $99,465. The Board's responses to my two OPRA requests resulted in my June 3, 2011 lawsuit against the Board: That lawsuit is on-line here.

For unknown reasons, Stern never followed through on his promise to send me a "cease and desist" letter.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Gloucester Prosecutor issues guidelines on public officials' e-mail usage

On September 13, 2011, Gloucester County Prosecutor Sean F. Dalton sent a memorandum to every municipality in the county "strongly urging" them to "adopt an e-mail policy" for local government officials "in order to uphold the high levels of transparency contemplated by the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA)."

The memorandum was issued in response to a February 19, 2011 complaint against the Borough of Pitman that Prosecutor Dalton received from the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project. The Project had complained that a majority of the Pitman Borough Council had "voted" via e-mail to pay a utility bill. Dalton found that "there is sufficient evidence to believe a violation of the OPMA took place" but felt that it was not "in the best interest of the public" for fines to be levied against the Pitman Council members who participated in the improper e-mail.

However, Dalton issued some guidelines, including not having an effective majority of a governing body included in a single e-mail and not conducting "rolling" e-mail communications (i.e. a series of e-mails on official business that eventually involve a majority of the body). Dalton's letter, memorandum and background material are on-line here.

This is the second instance this year where a county prosecutor has responded to the Open Government Advocacy Project's complaints regarding e-mail use by public officials. In an August 4, 2011 letter, Burlington County Prosecutor Robert D. Bernardi made findings similar to Dalton's regarding use of e-mail by Evesham Township Council members. That letter is on-line here.