Monday, February 6, 2017

Public spending disclosure rule inches closer to enactment.

During the summer of 2014, Parsippany-Troy Hills Township (Morris County) hired a consulting firm that was at least partially owned by the Township's recently retired Chief Financial Officer (CFO) and then refused to tell the public how much taxpayer money the consulting firm was to receive under the contract.

While the amount to be paid was listed in the contract itself, Township Clerk Yancy Wazirmas refused to provide a copy of the contract in response to my Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request because it "hasn’t been signed by the Administration (meaning Mayor James Barberio) and given to the Clerk’s Office yet.  That could take up to 30 days."  Further, I was denied access to the unsigned contract because it was considered "advisory, consultative and deliberative." And finally, neither the resolution that authorized the contract nor the Certificate of Available Funds (a certification that the CFO must provide showing that there are sufficient funds in a budget line to cover the contract's cost) disclosed the amount of the contract.

I felt strongly that public bodies, when they vote to approve a contract, should be required to create a publicly accessible document that discloses the maximum amount of public money that could be paid out under that contract.  Accordingly, on August 1, 2014, I (in my role as Chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project) submitted a formal Petition for Rulemaking to the the Division of Local Government Services (DLGS) within the Department of Community Affairs seeking a rule amendment that would "require all Certifications of Available Funds to explicitly set forth the maximum dollar amount of the contract to be awarded."

The DLGS agreed with my proposal and published a formal proposed rule amendment in the January 20, 2015 New Jersey Register.  Unfortunately, it failed to move forward on the rule within one year, causing it to expire.  So, on March 16, 2016, I submitted a second, similar petition which is moving through the process.  In a formal proposal published in the February 6, 2017 New Jersey Register, the DLGS, after having reviewed a first round of public comments, has fine-tuned the proposed rule and has asked for more public comments prior to March 8, 2017.  After reviewing any comments received, I am hopeful that the rule will pass thus enabling taxpayers to better learn how their money is being spent.

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