Saturday, February 21, 2015

Hainesport Mayor publicly chastises me for a comment I didn't make.

Hainesport Mayor Michael Fitzpatrick

In late 2014, I blogged about my common law right of access lawsuit that compelled the Township of Hainesport (Burlington County) to release a list of all public officials, employees and retirees who were receiving health insurance that was subsidized by Hainesport taxpayers.  While nothing illegal was discovered, the list did confirm that Hainesport taxpayers were paying about $27,000 toward health coverage for each of four elected Township Committee members who selected the "family plan." (The fifth member of the Committee, William M. Boettcher, selected the "married plan" reducing the taxpayers' burden in 2014 to approximately $21,000.)

At the Township Committee's January 6, 2015 meeting, Mayor Michael Fitzpatrick read a statement that took me to task for some "appalling" and "misleading accusations" that I had allegedly made regarding the health coverage.  The Mayor's statement, which runs for about three minutes, is on-line here in MP3 format.  Fitzpatrick had nothing good to say about me and characterizes me as an out-of-town interloper who "is only trying to sensationalize [myself] at the expense of our town."

In support of his accusations against me, Fitzpatrick quoted from "this gentleman's article" (referring to an article I authored) in which I allegedly wrote the sentence fragment: "corruption by revealing government employees that are improperly receiving health insurance."

I can't find any article where I wrote this. I did, however, find that sentence fragment in a December 12, 2014 Burlington County Times article (on-line here) written about my lawsuit by journalist Rose Krebs.  Krebs wrote:
According to court documents, Paff argued that "the information is useful to root out waste and corruption by revealing government employees that are improperly receiving health insurance."
I checked back through the filings and could not find that quote in any of the court papers filed by my attorney, Walter M. Luers of Clinton.  The only place that I could find it was on page 3 of Judge Ronald E. Bookbinder's tentative decision (online here) (Bookbinder's September 23, 2014 Order is on-line here) that he issued shortly before a July 16, 2014 court hearing.  Bookbinder wrote:
Paff summarizes the rationale applied in Michelson and Brewer. Paff argues that the information is useful to root out waste and corruption by revealing government employees that are improperly receiving health insurance.
Judge Bookbinder's decision correctly states why I want to publicly identify those who are receiving taxpayer-subsidized health insurance.  If taxpayers are paying employees' and officials' health insurance premiums, those taxpayers need to be able to make sure that ineligible people aren't being retained on the system.

In sum, I never accused anyone in Hainesport of being corrupt or doing anything illegal.  I just wanted to make so that the people of Hainesport could check and make sure that only eligible people were receiving health benefits.

Interestingly, several citizens arose during the January 6, 2015 meeting's public comment period (minutes are on-line here) and expressed their opinions on the health benefits issue and Mayor Fitzpatrick's statement. I've put MP3 files of each comment made at the links below.  Some of the citizen who spoke said or implied that the Township Committee has deceived the public by not disclosing that the Committee members and their families were receiving health insurance subsidies.

Citizens who spoke (click on their names to hear the audio):

Virginia Cliver
Pat Macken
Catherine McNelis
Laila Gilmore
Mark Murdy

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