New Jersey Libertarian Party Open Government Advocacy Project: OPRA/OPMA hearing in Camden this Wednesday
At 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday, April 13, 2011, Judge Frederick J. Schuck, sitting in Camden, will hear oral argument in a lawsuit alleging that the City of Gloucester City committed several violations the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA), the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) and the common law right of access to government records.
The lawsuit, Schmidt et al v. City of Gloucester City, et al, Docket No. CAM-L-1287-11 was filed on March 17, 2011 by Oxford, New Jersey attorney Walter M. Luers on behalf of Plaintiffs John P. Schmidt and Michael Walters, both of Gloucester City. In addition to the City, the lawsuit names the Gloucester City Board of Education, the City's Housing Authority as well as City Clerk Kathy Jentsch, Board of Education Business Administrator Margaret McDonnell and Housing Authority Records Custodian Sue McElhatton as defendants.
The lawsuit and other case documents are on-line here:
The complaint alleges a smorgasbord of OPRA and OPMA violations. The Plaintiffs claim that the Board of Education consistently goes into executive session without sufficiently identifying the topics to be discussed and recording minutes that are "uniformly uninformative." The City Council is accused of denying access to various meeting minutes, holding a secret, illegal meeting and failing to approve executive session minutes in a timely fashion. The Housing Authority is charged with refusing to release any of its 2010 executive session minutes, even in redacted form, and for overly-redacting its attorneys legal invoices.
One of the most serious allegations is that the Mayor, on January 1, 2011, invited all City Council members along with certain administrative officials to "a meting at the democrat club on Sunday at 1 p.m. for the sole purpose of finalizing committees for the upcoming year." Despite this being a meeting that ought to have been publicly advertised in accordance with the OPMA, the complaint alleged that "no public notice of that meeting was prepared or published [and] no minutes of the January 2, 2011 secret meeting have been kept."
Also of particular significance is the lawsuit's challenge to Board of Education minutes that sum up hour long meetings in one word, such as "Retirement" or "Personnel."
The media and public are invited to attend and observe Wednesday's hearing. It will be held at the Hall of Justice, 101 S. 5th Street, Camden. Those who wish to attend are advised to call Judge Schuck's chambers at 856-379-2380 or the Civil Division Manager's office at 856-379-2200 ext. 3070 the day prior to the hearing to verify that it hasn't been adjourned.
John Paff, Chairman
New Jersey Libertarian Party's
Open Government Advocacy Project
Somerset, New Jersey
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