Friday, March 28, 2014

New Jersey Government Records Councils Actions at March 25th Meeting Suspicious

The State Government Records Council appears to be playing around with meeting minutes on their website which has revealed some alarming revelations.

On March 25, 2104 GRC complaint number 2013-191 was scheduled for a Final Decision. The complaint was filed against the Department of Education for requesting an extension for a "staff vacations", failing to respond to item number 1 in the request and a dispute over redactions. The Dept of Education Custodian is a staff member of the Commissioner of Education who is a designated member of the Council.

On March 26, 2014 the meeting minutes showed a Final Decision by the GRC.

On March 28, 2014 the meeting minutes have been changed to show complaint 2013-191 was pulled from the agenda. It was also pulled from the agenda in January.

The original meeting minutes read that the GRC found the “custodian timely responded to the complainant’s request in writing.” This finding is completely impossible and directly contradicts the GRC's own training publications.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Fearing The Government When Filing an OPRA Request

While I have my own open government projects I work on, I often help others who have problems filing OPRA requests. Most of the time when I help people its obvious their request was denied because they asked a question instead of requesting documents.

Every now-an-then though I have someone who fears that filing an OPRA request will result in repercussions. I can recall one man who after filing some OPRA requests and speaking during public comment had a code enforcement officer visit his place of business and harass him.

What many may not know is that your identity as an OPRA requester is irrelevant. The Government Records Council has held that you have the right to submit an "anonymous" request.

I decided to test whether or not an anonymous request would go as smoothly as a normal request. I am disappointed to find that submitting an anonymous request is most likely going to result in a denial. The Government doesn't seem to like that fact that someone, anyone, can inspect their documents and they don't get to know who you are.

I have several anonymous requests pending. I've only had one or two out of about 15 requests result in documents released. Several GRC complaints are pending.

Hopefully this open government activism will result in changes that will allow the public to know more about what the government is doing without having to worry about the government knowing who they are.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Department of Education Repeats Previous OPRA Violation

The Department of Education's Records Custodians has twice violated the Open Public Records Act less then 60 days after the Government Records Council found the agency in violation. The new violations are for the same reason, not honoring extension dates. 

What's most concerning about these violations is that the Commissioner of Education sits on the Government Records Council. 

Two additional violations were filed today with the GRC. I also emailed Commissioner Dave Hespe to express my concern. 

Monday, March 17, 2014

Objections Made in Motor Vehicle Commission Complaint

An email was sent to the Government Records Council objecting to communications between the GRC and Motor Vehicle Commission attorney Valentina DiPippo in GRC complaint 2014-75.

Deputy Attorney General Valentina DiPippo twice contacted the GRC  via phone conferences to request extensions which I was not given the opportunity to hear. She was twice given two extensions totaling 40 days without the reason being made known. Both extensions seem to be extensive.

In prior cases I filed, the GRC has granted extensions to custodians from a week to two weeks making clear they are being given "one" extension. This is the first time I've seen the GRC grant double the extension I normally see (30 days) and then accommodate a second extension of 10 days.

The first issue for me is the continued delay of records that we have a State Civil Right to receive in 7 business days.

The second issue deals with the communications. In court communication between one side with the Judge is never permitted.

The process of filing a complaint with the GRC should be just as fair to both sides as the process is when filing a complaint in Superior Court.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Galloway Township Complaint Withdrawn in Mediation

The GRC complaint (2013-366) filed against Galloway Township OPRA Custodian TC Kay has been withdrawn. The complaint was filed after the Custodian did not provide timesheets and payroll registers as requested under immediate release. The Custodian provided the documents under normal release conditions.

OPRA requires that custodians must ordinarily grant immediate access to budgets, bills, vouchers, contracts (including collective negotiations agreements and individual employment contracts), and public employee salary and overtime information.

It was my perception that since payroll registers contained salary information and that timesheets contained overtime information they therefore were subject to immediate release.

In the Township's response to the complaint Solicitor Michael Fitzgerald made the argument that the documents I had requested were not subject to immediate release. It was my misunderstanding the documents were based on watching other requestor's submit under immediate release for the same type documents.

It was revealed during mediation that the GRC narrowly interprets the immediate release provision of OPRA to only include what is specifically listed under the statute.

After it became apparent my broader expectations of the provision were misguided the complaint was withdrawn.


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Woodbine Board of Education Doesn't Deny Violating Open Public Records Act

The Woodbine Board of Education's OPRA Custodian Allen Parmelee provided his response to three violations filed against him with the Government Records Council. 

Mr. Parmelee does not deny he violated OPRA is any of his responses. 

GRC 2014-60
GRC 2014-59
GRC 2014-58

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Dept of Treasury Releases Disputed Documents, Lawsuit Withdrawn

GRC complaint 2014-085 has been withdrawn. The complaint was filed after the Division of Taxation refused to turn over a Civil Warrant executed at Tung Sing Chinese Restaurant in Seaville, NJ.  

Deputy Attorney General Heather Anderson advised the denial was made in error and has turned the Warrant over. 


Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Senator Jeff Van Drew Requests Opinion On Unwritten New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission Policy

State Senator Jeff Van Drew is requesting the Office of Legislative Services give an opinion on an unwritten Motor Vehicle Commission's Policy allowing employees to refused to give their names.

A lawsuit filed with the State Government Records Council  for violation of the Open Public Records Act is also pending in the same matter.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Senator Van Drew Asked To Investigate MVC Policy Keeping Employees A State Secret


The Department of Motor Vehicle is still keeping the identities of their employees a closely guarded secret. 

Last month MVC manager Micheal Duffy informed me that MVC employees don't have to provide their names as a matter of MVC policy. 

Saturday, February 8, 2014

DMV Manager says employees don't have to give their names to public

An Open Public Records Act has been filed to determine whether or not Department of Motor Vehicle employees can refuse to give their names to the taxpayers who pay their salary's.

According to Egg Harbor Township DMV manager Dave Duffy, DMV employees don't have to give their names to the public due to past harassment incidents. Mr. Duffy claims this is DMV policy. 


I have filed an OPRA request for this policy which I doubt very much is in existence. Pursuant to N.J.S.A. 47:1A-10a the public is entitled to know a public employees name, title, position, salary, payroll record, length of service, date of separation and the reason for such separation, and the amount and type of any pension received.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Woodbine School Board Responds to GRC Complaint 2014-17

The complaint was filed against Custodian Allen Parmelee for failing to release documents subject to immediate release "immediately". It took a total of 7 days for this custodian to release all requested documents.

Woodbine Board of Education Statement of Information

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Galloway Township Complaint 2013-366 Moved to Mediation

Both parties have consented to move GRC complaint 2013-366 to mediation. The complaint filed on Galloway Township clerk TC Kay was filed due to an untimely response to an immediate release request and proceved unreasonable extension.

The Township believes some of the documents I requested were not subject to immediate release and those that were, were provided "as reasonably as possible". TC Kay was out of the office on the date the request was sent due to training. The Deputy Clerk was in on that day however the Township argues she was busy with other duties and did not work on OPRA that day.




GRC Finds NJ Dept of Education In Violation of OPRA

Department of Education records custodian Paul Crupi was found in violation of the Open Public Records Act on January 28, 2014.

During 2013 it became apparent by several OPRA requests submitted by myself and others that the Dept of Education was automatically demanding extensions on the 7th day without sufficient reasons.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

GRC Finds Motor Vehicle Commission In Violation of OPRA

Motor Vehicle Commission Custodian Joesph Bruno was found in violation of the Open Public Records Act on January 28, 2014. Bruno was represented by Deputy Attorney General Valentina M. DiPippo.

Complaint Against Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office Withdrawn

I had a website crash in November of 2013 which I just go around to fixing. This update is a bit late.


Scheeler Vs. Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office GRC 2013-238

This complaint was filed after the records custodian refused to answer a request either granting or denying access. The custodian hypothetically said if the records did exists they would be exempt.

While this appear to be a clear cut violation, I was forced to withdrawn the complaint due to a Superior Court ruling. In NORTH JERSEY MEDIA GROUP, INC., d/b/a Community News, v. BERGEN COUNTY PROSECUTOR’S OFFICE, which dealt with a nearly identical issue. In this matter, the complainant, a newspaper corporation, made an OPRA request to the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office for records of an investigation of an individual who may have been subject to an inquiry, but was neither arrested nor charged with a crime. The Custodian denied the request and declined to indicate whether it possessed any records that were responsive to the request. The Custodian reasoned in part that law enforcement agencies routinely receive allegations that are determined to be unprovable, unfounded or untrue and that Identifying the target of such allegations could unfairly subject that individual to irreparable harm. The Plaintiff initiated a proceeding in lieu of prerogative writ in Superior Court. The Court found that a significant public interest existed in maintaining the privacy of those individuals who have been subject to an inquiry but have neither been arrested nor charged with a crime. The Court accepted the Custodian’s reasonable expectation of privacy argument based on the OPRA statute and the common law right of access finding that the intrusion into an individual’s life by requesting documents related to an inquiry that did not result in an arrest or charge, may well be immense.

While I can understand the argument in this case it continues to allow NJ Law Enforcement to operate in secrecy. In most states around the country when an investigation is over, members of the public can get copies of the Governments case. There are numerous incidents of members of the public and journalist who gotten persons convicted freed after misconduct by the police or prosecutors were uncovered.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Prison Food Is Good at Bayside State Prison

I've always had an interest in the world wide criticism of our prison systems. Our prisons are overcrowded with prisoners who are serving harsh sentences. I for one do not approve of the way our prisoners are housed. People who make mistakes should not be treated as animals and given cruel punishments. On the other side prison is a punishment and should not be a hotel lifestyle. There needs to be a just balance which is fair. 

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Cape May County Social Services Director Jan Seer Placed On Administrative Leave

Cape May County Social Services Director Jan Seer has been Placed On Administrative Leave according to County Officials. Seer's employment status was obtained by an Executive Order 26 request under the Common Law. The Board of Social Services have been under investigation by the County Board of Freeholders after documents I obtained via OPRA showed widespread gross negligence by the agency. 

There is no way to tell at this point by public access whether or not Seers leave is related to the Freeholder investigation as personnel matters are exempt from disclosure. 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Galloway Councilman Charged After My Public Comments Directed At His Conduct

On October 8, 2013, I spoke during public comment in Galloway Township regarding the Facebook conduct of Councilman McElwee. 

My concerns were regarding his offensive, sexiest and threatening comments on his then public Facebook page directed at women. The comments included "ruff sex" and punching women in the face. Not an hour after my concern, Atlantic City Press reporter Donna Weaver filed charges against McElwee for "offensive touching". 

When I spoke his fellow Democrats heckled me. Calling my concerns "political". 

Its interesting what people are willing to ignore in order for their cronies to win an election. 

Councilman McElwee is up for re-election in November. I doubt he is going to be re-elected. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Officials, stop whining about costs of OPRA

September 22, 2013 Press of Atlantic City, Voice of the People

Regarding the Sept. 16 editorial, "OPRA requests/Update the law":

Throughout New Jersey, municipalities big and small are whining about the costs associated with the Open Public Records Act. The government would have the public believe that citizens inspecting government documents are part of their budget problems.

Give me a break. It is getting to the point that the OPRA acronym is a dirty word in government. No one seems to keep in mind the act's true purpose - public oversight.

So what's all the fuss about? All too often when I put in an OPRA request, the OPRA custodian runs for a lawyer. And for good reason. The government's documents can show a variety of information, from nothing out of the ordinary to corruption and scandal.

So let's be honest here. The cost of OPRA really depends on how dirty the laundry is. Without concerned citizens, the dirty laundry would pile very high. The question we should ask is not how much OPRA is costing the government, but how much not having OPRA would cost us.

HARRY B. SCHEELER JR.

Woodbine

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Cape May City Police Department's OPRA Policy Unlawful

The City of Cape May's Police Department has an OPRA policy which puts an unlawful obstacle in front of the public's right to Government Documents.

The Police Department's website instructs the public to " include a copy of your official photo ID (Driver’s License, State ID or Passport)". The Open Public Records Act has no requirement to produce identification in order to inspect government records. In fact a requestor's identity is irrelevant. The OPRA statute protects the public's ability to request documents anonymously under N.J.S.A. 47:1A-2.2 (c)

An audit of the police department's OPRA requests and denials is being conducted to determine if there are any other violations before further action is taken.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Investigation Launched Into Cape May County Board of Social Services

An investigation has been launched into the Cape May County Board of Social Services by Cape May County and State Officials after it was brought to their attention the Social Services agency was blatantly violating state law. 

Sunday, January 8, 2012

State says Galloway Township’s acting clerk last summer was improperly appointed - pressofAtlanticCity.com:  

State says Galloway Township’s acting clerk last summer was improperly appointed - pressofAtlanticCity.com: :

'via Blog this'

State says Galloway Township’s acting clerk last summer was improperly appointed - pressofAtlanticCity.com:  

State says Galloway Township’s acting clerk last summer was improperly appointed - pressofAtlanticCity.com: :

'via Blog this'

UPDATED: State: Acting Clerk Shouldn't Have Been Appointed - Galloway, NJ Patch

UPDATED: State: Acting Clerk Shouldn't Have Been Appointed - Galloway, NJ Patch:

'via Blog this'

Galloway Township clerk focus of complaint, investigation over open records request - pressofAtlanticCity.com: Breaking News

Galloway Township clerk focus of complaint, investigation over open records request - pressofAtlanticCity.com: Breaking News:

'via Blog this'

Township Says It's Overwhelmed with OPRA Requests - Galloway, NJ Patch

Township Says It's Overwhelmed with OPRA Requests - Galloway, NJ Patch:

'via Blog this'