Following is my letter to the Interim Manager of Medford Township in Burlington County.
October 7, 2014
Katherine Burger, Interim Manager
Township of Medford
17 North Main Street
Medford, NJ 08055
via e-mail only to firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear Ms. Burger:
Thank you for your October 6, 2014 response to my Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request and for providing me with the electric bills and "Township Manager Exit Report." For your ready reference, I have placed your response and the responsive records on-line here.
According to the Exit Report, the Township's erroneous installation of some drainage pipes caused water stagnation in one of the Birchwood Lakes Homeowners Association's lakes. In lieu of fixing the pipe installation, the Township agreed to pay up to $200 per year for electricity to run an aerator pump that the Association installed in the lake. The electric bills show that the pump's actual usage was more in the range of $1,200 per year.
This arrangement causes concern and raises questions.
First, I believe that it is axiomatic that a municipality cannot spend public funds without some sort of formal approval process, such as submission of a voucher and approval of the voucher by the the municipal council. Unless there are some other records that you did not disclose in response to my request, it appears that the Township entered into a verbal agreement to establish and pay for an electric account that benefitted a private organization. How can this be squared with the Local Public Contracts Law and other laws and regulations that prescribe the procedures that must be followed before public money can be spent?
Second, even if the agreement is valid, it concerns me that the Township put the electric bill in its own name rather than having the Association put the bill in its name and then reimbursing the Association the agreed upon amount. This made the taxpayers responsible for the entire bill, which greatly exceeded the $200 annual amount that was estimated by the Association. Establishing a municipal utility account in this instance also made it more difficult for members of the public who reviewed the Township's bill list to realize that a private party was receiving a taxpayer funded benefit.
I am making this letter public so that Medford taxpayers may be informed of this issue. I invite the taxpayers to direct any questions regarding this matter to you or the Township Council.
Very truly yours,
John Paff, Chairman
New Jersey Libertarian Party's
Open Government Advocacy Project
P.O. Box 5424
Somerset, NJ 08875