|Posted on Saturday, March 15, 2008 - 01:20 am: ||
Judge: Robbinsville council violated open meetings law
by Ryan Tracy/The Times
Friday March 14, 2008, 8:36 PM
ROBBINSVILLE -- The Township Council violated the Open Public Meetings Act in 2006 when it allowed an insurance contractor to pitch his services to the township during a private session, according to a state Superior Court decision handed down Friday.
John Paff, an open government advocate for the New Jersey Libertarian Party, filed a lawsuit against the township council last year after uncovering the closed-door discussions between Joseph DiBella, a vice president for Cherry Hill-based Commerce Bank Insurance Services, and Robbinsville officials, including Mayor Dave Fried and council members.
During the discussions, DiBella offered to reduce his company's commission in return for a longer contract.
Township attorney Mark Roselli argued that the discussions with DiBella were appropriate for the private meeting because they pertained to contract negotiations, according to Feinberg's decision.
Roselli did not return phone calls for comment Friday.
But Feinberg drew a distinction between discussions "about" contract negotiations and direct talk with a candidate for a contract, ruling that only talk "about" the negotiations were exempt from the law.
"The council was not discussing a negotiation strategy," Feinberg wrote. "DiBella was merely promoting his services to council."
Paff, who requests public records at random from municipalities, found the discussion in the minutes from the township council's executive session on Oct. 26, 2006.
"It doesn't make any sense to have the contractor in the room with you," said Paff, who represented himself in the lawsuit. "If he's in your room, the only person you're keeping out in the dark is the public."
DiBella, who is also the mayor of Howell Township, was not named in the lawsuit.
Citing pending litigation, the township originally provided Paff with a heavily blacked-out copy of the minutes. Paff also urged the judge to rule that a more revealing copy should have been provided sooner.
Feinberg made it clear that the township violated the law, but also credited the township for releasing the minutes.
"The fact that no action was taken by council and the subsequent release of the minutes cured any violation," Feinberg wrote.
The Green Hornet
|Posted on Saturday, March 15, 2008 - 11:31 am: ||
March 15, 2008
Judge says council session was illegal
Vendors can't meet in closed session
By MICHELLE GLADDEN
A Superior Court judge in Mercer County ruled Friday that a closed session of the Washington Township Council, attended by Howell Mayor Joseph DiBella as part of his job as a health benefits consultant, violated the Open Public Meeting Act.
Judge Linda R. Feinberg, sitting in Trenton, ruled on a lawsuit filed by John Paff of Franklin Township (Somerset County). Paff, chairman of the state Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project, contended DiBella's presence as a private consultant during a Washington council executive session in September violated the so-called Sunshine Law.
Washington Township (Mercer County) officials have argued that the council was within its rights to hold the closed session because the discussion involved terms that DiBella's firm was extending to the township. If those terms were to be revealed in a public session, it would have given an unfair advantage to competitors, thereby placing the township, which is now called Robbinsville, at a disadvantage with respect to negotiations with them, they said.
But Feinberg found that the closed-door meeting should have been held in public session.
"The council was not discussing its negotiation strategy or any other aspect of negotiation," Feinberg wrote in her decision. "Rather, DiBella was merely promoting his company's services to the council."
Paff said Friday the case was not about DiBella but was an effort to correct what may be a widespread practice by municipalities. Paff cited at least three similar cases in which judges across the state upheld the decision that vendors should not be meeting with governing bodies during executive sessions.
"To me, it was clear that this wasn't something that should be done," Paff said. "You can't take vendors into (executive session). The only people that are being kept in the dark are the citizens, and you can't have an effective electoral system without the citizens having access to information."
DiBella said that the case had nothing to do with his role as mayor of Howell.
"I have a private career, and I was serving at the pleasure of that governing body," he said Friday. "I do not control what their attorney deems as material that is or is not appropriate for executive session. When I am doing my regular business, I am not doing it as a public official."
The Green Hornet
|Posted on Saturday, March 15, 2008 - 12:00 pm: ||
Check out the above link! I found it from the other message board.
VERY VERY INTERESTING!!!!!
Very Very Quiet
|Posted on Sunday, March 16, 2008 - 09:49 am: ||
This thread is very very quiet!!
|Posted on Sunday, March 16, 2008 - 11:29 am: ||
Maybe because no one thinks it is worth posting about! Old news, there are a lot more important things going on to post. This is just a way to stir up more bad feelings about the admin.
|Posted on Sunday, March 16, 2008 - 07:34 pm: ||
This just came out yesterday!
|Posted on Wednesday, March 19, 2008 - 01:15 pm: ||
no suprises here..
our municipal offices are in the corporate headquarters of our largest builder....
conflict of interest?
oh yeah, cheap rent....
Behind Door Number 3
|Posted on Thursday, March 20, 2008 - 08:43 pm: ||
Court rules against council in OPMA suit filed in 2006
By Jessica Ercolino, Staff Writer
Posted: Thursday, March 20, 2008 5:09 PM EDT
ROBBINSVILLE — A state Superior Court judge has determined that the Washington (now Robbinsville) Township Council violated the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) by meeting with a private consultant behind closed doors in 2006.
John Paff, chairman of the state Libertarian Party’s Open Government Task Force, filed the lawsuit Aug. 28. His lawsuit argued that the minutes he requested from the Oct. 26, 2006 council’s executive session meeting were, at first, “redacted too heavily,” and that the discussion between the council and Joseph DiBella, a vice president of Cherry Hill-based Commerce Bank Insurance Services during that closed session should have been held in public.
Judge Linda Feinberg ruled in favor of Mr. Paff, saying that township was not discussing negotiation strategies, but Mr. DiBella was instead “pitching” his company’s service to Robbinsville.
During the meeting, Mr. DiBella — who is also the mayor of Howell Township — offered to reduce the company’s commission if the township offered Commerce a two-year contract for health benefits. Mr. Paff claimed that the OPMA does not allow the governing body to discuss contractual or litigation matters behind closed doors directly with a vendor because it keeps only the public in the dark.
Township Attorney Mark Roselli argued that the session involved contract negotiations and included terms that Commerce was extending to the township. If they were publicly discussed, Mr. Roselli said, it would have given an unfair advantage to competitors and adversely affected the township’s negotiation process.
The OPMA’s exemption pertains to discussions about contract negotiations by the council, not negotiations with the opposing party, according to the decision.
Mr. Paff’s suit also cited violations of the Open Public Records Act.
He first requested minutes from the Oct. 26, 2006 meeting in April of last year, but much of the information was obscured, he said.
Township Clerk Michele Auletta explained then that the minutes had been redacted due to attorney-client privilege and matters of litigation. Mr. Paff pushed for the minutes again, and Ms. Auletta sent them to him after the matter had been resolved.
Because no action was taken during the executive session with Mr. DiBella and unredacted minutes were provided to Mr. Paff upon second request, the court ruled that the township was “cured of any violation of OPMA.” Mr. Paff said that the only direct consequence for the township would be a reimbursement of Mr. Paff’s $298 out-of-pocket costs.
Commerce was not awarded the contract, according to Ms. Auletta, but she was unable to say Monday to whom it was awarded. Township Administrator Mary Caffrey did not return calls because The Messenger-Press’s deadline.
Mr. Paff, a Franklin Township resident who randomly selects townships to study their compliance with OPMA, said he is happy with the ruling.
”The whole point is to make sure the public gets to see the entire decision-making process; there is an incalculable loss when the public is kept out,” he said Monday. “The public starts to recognize that meetings are not worth going to and they’re just essentially formal voting on decisions that are already made.”
Mr. Paff said that governing bodies can alleviate the common distrust of government if they aimed for 100 percent disclosure. He said that Robbinsville is not the only township to violate the OPMA, but hoped that the township would serve as an example to other municipalities.
Mr. Roselli disagreed.
”(Mr. Paff) thinks he is doing a public service, but it costs time and expenses of the township,” he said Monday. “(Township officials) are trying to act according to the best interest of the township — contrary to Mr. Paff’s beliefs — to ensure the best deal from vendors.”
Mr. Roselli said that there are questionable areas in the legislation that are left up to interpretation, but that the township and council will act in compliance with the ruling because they have nothing to hide, he said.
|Posted on Sunday, March 23, 2008 - 09:22 am: ||
Not enough information is provided to the taxpayers and more should be provided over the internet for download.
|Posted on Wednesday, March 26, 2008 - 05:01 pm: ||
Ouch! Rville loses another one. Whats the record now? 0-3?? I would love to see the bill for all these lawsuits. Oh thats right I can... thanks "OPRA"
0 and 30
|Posted on Wednesday, March 26, 2008 - 10:46 pm: ||
This administration will be 0-30 by the time they get voted out of there.
I am sure there are some big ones on the way!
|Posted on Thursday, March 27, 2008 - 07:04 am: ||
So the measure of effective government is now how many stupid lawsuits you win?