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Open Government Advocacy Project:
Town mulls ordinance requiring public announcement of lawsuit settlements

Issue Detail:

Andover Township (Sussex County) is presently considering an ordinance that would require the mayor, at the following Township Committee meeting, to "publicly announce the amount and terms of" any judgment or settlement arising out of a civil lawsuit against the Township or its employees. The proposed ordinance, which will be considered for adoption in early 2010, is online. This ordinance is beneficial because settlement agreements, which are often signed years after the the lawsuit's initial filing, are not easy to track and often escape the public's and media's attention. Currently, the only way for a citizen or reporter to find out if a given lawsuit settled is to periodically--perhaps monthly--check with the court or OPRA the settlement agreement. Since most people are not sufficiently motivated to follow up on a given lawsuit's status dozens of times, the settlements are often entered into without the public's knowledge. And, because of the confidentiality agreements that are often inserted into settlement agreements, the public cannot rely upon the plaintiff in the underlying suit to inform the public of the settlement. Knowing about settlement agreements helps identify patterns of questionable conduct. If, for example, citizens become aware that multiple lawsuit settlements have arisen out of the acts or omissions of a particular municipal employee, those citizens can aptly inquire of their elected officials as to why that employee is still on the public payroll. I think that readers should provide a copy of Andover's proposal to their own municipal governing bodies and school boards and urge them to adopt something similar. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey




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