Thursday, July 11, 2013

Galloway Township not in compliance with Meetings Act Consent Judgment

I sent the following letter today to Galloway Township's (Atlantic County) Mayor and Council.

July 11, 2013
Hon. Don Purdy, Mayor and members of the
Galloway Township Council
300 E. Jimmie Leeds Rd
Galloway, NJ 08205
(via e-mail only to TKay@gallowaytwp-nj.gov)

RE:    Paff v. Galloway et al
         Docket No. ATL-L-3392-08

Dear Mayor Purdy and Council members:

As you are aware, Galloway Township and I entered into a Consent Judgment on May 27, 2009 that governed the Township Council's closed meeting procedure.  A copy of that Consent Judgment, with the Memorandum of Understanding, is on-line here.   By way of a recent Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request, I obtained the revised resolution that authorized the Council's June 25, 2013 closed session and a heavily redacted set of minutes from that closed session.  These documents are on-line here and here.  After reviewing these records, I have concluded that the Township Council has violated the terms of the Consent Judgment.

First, the resolution indicates that the Council was going into closed session to discuss three issues--two of which were justified by N.J.S.A. 10:4-12(b)(7) (lawsuits/contracts/attorney client privilege) and one of which justified by by N.J.S.A. 10:4-12(b)(8) (personnel matters).  Yet the meeting minutes show only two headings--one for "Attorney Client Privilege / Appointment of Special Counsel" and "Shared Services Agreement with the City of Absecon."  Thus, it appears that the Council erroneously informed the public that three issues would be privately discussed when only two issues were actually discussed.

Second, while the resolution disclosed only that "Contract Negotiations" would be discussed, the minutes and Resolution 190 of 2013, also passed on June 25, 2013, disclose that the "contract" was with the City of Absecon and would establish shared services of the Township Manager. The Council's failure to include these details in its resolution violated 2.b of the Consent Judgment which requires such resolutions to "set forth as much information about the topic(s) to be privately discussed that can be disclosed without undermining" the closed session.  Clearly, the nature of the contract and the fact that it was with Absecon could have been publicly disclosed without jeopardizing any legitimate governmental or privacy interest.

Be advised that I will be checking future executive session minutes and resolutions for compliance with the Consent Judgment.  If I find them to be out of compliance, I will institute a R.1:10-3 motion without further notice.

Very truly yours,

John Paff
 I received the following response from the Township Attorney.
Michael Fitzgerald
July 17, 2013 10:06 AM
        
Mr. Paff:  I am the Municipal Attorney for Galloway Township and I received a copy of your email from the Galloway Clerk and I would like to assure you that the Township and  particularly the current Clerk have endeavored to comply with OPRA and the Consent Judgment to the fullest extent possible. To the extent that there is a lack of what you perceive to be full compliance, it results from either inadvertence or an honest disagreement with respect to the requirements of OPRA or the Consent Order.  In either case, if at any time you believe that there has been such non-compliance, please bring it directly to my attention, explain your position on the issue and I will make a good faith attempt to resolve the issue appropriately. I recognize that we may not always agree on the  specific application of OPRA in every situation, but I actually appreciate the sincerity of your  efforts in this area and having represented local governments for many years I am willing to acknowledge the need for greater openness, even if it can be inconvenient for the local officials.

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