By Bill Cleary
A four year legal battle between the City of Gloucester City and former Mayor Robert Gorman has concluded. Mayor and City Council were informed at the July 17th caucus meeting that a decision ruling against Gorman was decided by the NJ Government Records Council (GRC) at their June meeting.
The documents involve with the case number 100 pages or more. As for the cost to taxpayers in legal fees over the four year period it is not known. Frank Robertson, Gloucester City Financial Officer said on Monday (July 28th ), “it would take a long time to research all the bills for the past 48 months to find how much was spent by the City on this particular legal case”.
Normally the City would have been represented by Paul Kain, City Administrator, who is the custodian of public records. However, because he is related to Gorman, his sister is married to Kain; the City was represented by former Solicitor James Maley, of the Parker McCay Law Firm.
In 2004 Gorman was stopped by Officer William Johnson for a traffic violation. His tag light was out. Gorman felt he was being harassed by the police department. At the time the Chief of Police was William Johnson, father of Officer Johnson, and the Deputy Chief was William James. The fine on the ticket was $42 with no points which Gorman paid. The same year Gorman, who is the son of the late Assemblyman Gorman, resigned as Mayor and moved to Morristown.
Wednesday, July 30th Gorman via Email wrote,
- Bill, The request for the tape related to my attempts to get emergency response vehicles in non-emergent cases to slow down and also to clarify the city's pursuit policies. While Mayor numerous citizens complained about their speed and numerous articles were written in the Gloucester City News. At the time, I figured the easiest way to make a point about their speed was to get a copy of a video tape from one of the vehicles. Thus, I requested a copy of such both as a Mayor and as a private citizen. I was denied such in both roles and decided to put in an OPRA request similar to the Gloucester City News recent actions relating to a specific e-mail.
- As I said then and I will say again, police officers and firefighters risk their lives every day for the citizens and this is in no way an attempt to put into question their heroic actions.
After reading the transcript several times this reporter was unable to find any reference by Gorman to obtain a copy of the video tape for the reasons he stated above. Gorman was asked to provide that page or pages in the transcript that refer to that issue. As of this writing nothing has been submitted by the former mayor.
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The OPRA Saga began on....
July 2004 Gorman made a records request for the following:
- Patrol vehicle video assigned to Officer William Johnson
July 20, 2004 request
- Police committee meeting minutes from 3/3/04 to the present
- Documents related to the circumvention of security procedures within the department
- Records in which the Chief notified members of the GCPD that the Mayor raised concerns about postings on nj.com
- Review all relating info to access into the nj.com site from any computer of the GCPD
- Documents and/or tapes relating to the nj.com internal investigation
- Information regarding the harassing phone call to Robert Gorman
- Documents relating to the harassing phone call internal affairs investigation
- A copy of the CJP schedule
- Documents and/or tapes relating to the tag light ticket internal affairs investigation
- All tickets issued under Ordinance 73-15 for the past ten years
- “no tag light” tickets issued by the GCPD and all tickets/warnings issued on said pullovers in the past 5 years
- All records in which the Chief notified members of the GCPD that then Mayor Gorman raised concerns of speeding by members of the GCPD
- Copies of any and all policies and procedures relating to the enforcement of City Ordinance 73-15 and/or 73-16
Gorman received the information he requested, with some exceptions. For the most part the argument for the last four years has been over the video tape that was recorded by the camera inside the police car on the night he was ticketed. Gorman received the section of the tape that pertained to his ticket but he wanted the entire tape released to him.
From the record:
- · Custodian’s counsel stated: “While Mr. Gorman was still the Mayor of Gloucester City there was uncomplimentary material posted on NJ.com. It is stated that Mr. Gorman believed that some of these postings were made by Gloucester City Police Officers, and he also believes they could have made these posts while on duty at police headquarters. Apparently, while he was Mayor, Mr. Gorman requested that the Police Department investigate these allegations.
- · “Mr. Gorman believed that the Gloucester City Police Department was attempting to harm and/or harass him and now wants to review the results and status of the various internal investigations he requested while he was still mayor of Gloucester City.” Custodian’s counsel states that Executive Order Number 11 specifically precludes the disclosure of personnel records; therefore the Complaint should be dismissed because he is seeking records excluded from OPRA.
- · In regards to request number 2, seeking all “documents relating to alleged activities of circumvention, included but not limited to the IP address of the sender along with date and time, subnet mask, along with date and time, and any data relating to postings captured through cookies, previous pages sender came from, and names of persons (fictitious or not) registering for said postings.” Counsel states, “quite simply, this request was properly denied because it does not seek a public record. Specifically, OPRA only applies to “Any paper,…document,…information stored or maintained electronically or by sound recording…or any copy thereof, that has been made, maintained or kept on file in the course of his or its official business.” They also state that Mr. Gorman is “seeking information concerning alleged internet access by the police department. This information is certainly not required to be “made, maintained or kept on file” and therefore, does not meet the definition of a public record under the act. The City’s response was correct and Mr. Gorman’s Complaint should be dismissed.”
- · In regards to the Complainant’s requests for all tickets issued under Ordinance 73-15 for the past ten years and, “no tag light” tickets issued by the GCPD and all tickets/warnings issued on said pullovers in the past 5 years, it is stated that he was advised that the City’s Municipal Court attempted to but could not conduct a search for the documents based on the fact that the Municipal Court can only search by defendant’s last name or ticket/summons number. Counsel also states, “Mr. Gorman was advised of this and did not respond or object.”
- · On August 2, 2004 the City responded to the videotape request of July 2, 2004. Custodian’s counsel states, “The videotape contains personal information including audio and visual references to social security numbers, driver license numbers, criminal records and other confidential information. Because the references were both audible and visual, the City was unable to redact the confidential information.”
- GRC Counsel responded to the Complainant’s November 8 e-mail on November 22. With regard to the Complainant’s request for the videotape the City reiterates their position set forth in its prior submission. Counsel states, “The City does have limited editing ability to provide segments of both the video and audio tape, but does not have the ability to provide the videotape while excluding the audio portions of the tape. In addition, the videotape from other vehicle stops continues to allow the visual observation of personal information on computer screens as well as the audio transmissions of confidential information. The City lacks the capability to provide the expertise editing that allows for the complete incision of all confidential materials in a manner which protects the unrelated individuals’ privacy.”
Custodian’s counsel cites N.J.S.A. 47:1A-5.g. which permits a records custodian to deny a request that would substantially disrupt agency operations after attempting to reach a reasonable solution that accommodates the interests of the requestor and the agency. Counsel goes on to state that the Complainant’s initial requests for records were onerous and therefore the parties did in fact engage in settlement negotiations. Moreover, Custodian’s counsel states that they had agreed in principle to a settlement as evidenced by the attached letters from Mr. James Maley, Esq. to Mr. Robert Gorman dated September 2, 2005 and September 19, 2005. Custodian’s counsel states that the Complainant refused to execute a settlement agreement even after the City, pursuant to what the City understood to be an agreement to settle, allowed him to view portions of the MVR tape.
This past Monday, via Email, Chris Donnelly, Media spokesperson for the GRC wrote, "At a public meeting held in Trenton on June 25th, 2008 the GRC ruled that the tape was not exempt from disclosure as advisory, consultative, or deliberative material, as was being claimed by Gloucester City’s Custodian of Record (Maley).
"The GRC did find, however, that the tape was exempt from disclosure because, balancing the Complainant’s need for the police mobile video recorded tape versus the potential for harm should the tape be disclosed, it is clear the potential for harm outweigh(ed) the Complainant’s need for access.