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Gloucester City Clerk Paul Kain Claims He Was Not Insubordinate; Just Doing His Job

“As an officer of the OPRA act (Open Public Records Act), I have to follow the rules and cannot give out certain information without documentation,” Municipal Clerk Paul Kain

By Sara Martino

NEWS Correspondent

The overcrowding of more than 49 persons as allowed by a Fire Marshall ruling, the April 23 meeting Gloucester City Council was moved to the Gloucester Heights Fire Hall on Nicholson Road.

Some in the crowd of more than 100 people were there to support local unions, and others were there to support Paul Kain, the former City Administrator/Clerk and current City Clerk.

They heard allegations brought against Kain, as Mayor William James presented charges of insubordination, failure to perform duties and deliberate delay or restriction of work effort against the long-time clerk.

Usually, employee matters are discussed in a private personnel session. But, Mr. Kain wanted an open discussion of the charges.

Attorney John C. Eastlack Jr. represented Mr. Kain and submitted a letter concerning the charges. Also, he allowed the clerk to answer some of the charges himself.

“As an officer of the OPRA act (Open Public Records Act), I have to follow the rules and cannot give out certain information without documentation,” Kain said in answer to charges that he did not want to give certain records and information to Mayor James.

The mayor had asked for records regarding requests made for information in certain e-mails by interested parties.

Kain explained that the information could be given after fees are paid, and that he felt that the mayor was asking as a private citizen.

The fees were paid and then the information was turned over.

Another matter was the fact that Kain said he signed an agreement under protest.

“Because I did not have personal knowledge of a settlement agreement made by the solicitor with Mr. Gonzalez and Mr. Countryman who had requested certain public records, I did not want to sign,” Kain said.

“There was no insubordination from the ‘keeper of records,’ Kain and his attorney said.

According to Eastlack, the clerk acted in a statuary manner.

“I understand concerns about what is leaked out. I can only do the best that I can. There is a time limit of seven days in requesting records, and all the requested information must be in order before any records are released,” Kain said.

“If that time limit is passed and fees are not paid, I could not wait for the governing body and wanted the request for the records by made according to the OPRA law,” Kain said.

“As the mayor and chief administrative officer of the city, was it reasonable for Kain to take the position that the records could not be given to me?” Mayor James asked.

“In regards to Gonzalez and Countryman, their suits against the city were dismissed and no records were supplied to anyone,” he said.

A vote was called for on the guilt or innocence of the charges against Mr. Kain.

Councilman John Hutchinson made a motion that Mr. Kain be found guilty of the charges.

The motion was seconded by Councilman Nick Marchese. The motion passed, 5-0, with Councilwoman Kellie Ferry abstaining.

The appropriate punishment was the forthcoming issuance of a letter of reprimand against the clerk.

More charges will be discussed later.

Mr. Eastlack said he will respond to the hearing matters within two weeks.

He said he will be requesting witnesses, and asked if the city administrator, Mr. Lipsett, would sign the subpoenas to be sent to the witnesses.

Public remarks from the audience included “I have never seen anything like this,” and “You (governing body) should be ashamed of yourselves to treat Mr. Kain like this.”

The Council meeting started at City Hall, 313 Monmouth St.

“Due to the Fire Marshall ruling, this meeting will have to be moved. We will adjourn here and continue at the Gloucester Heights Fire Hall,” Mayor William James announced.

Not only was it over-crowded in the meeting room, but crowds of people were out in front of the City Hall before the meeting began.

Protesters carrying signs of “Union Busting and Unfair Labor Practices” were very vocal concerning the fact that they have been working for three years without a contract.

Judy Conroy, shop steward for the city clerical unit of CWA Local 1034, said the governing body would not negotiate with the union.

“The offer was for a 3½ percent raise for the first and second year and a 0 percent raise for the third year. We are satisfied with the benefit offer, but do want a fair raise for all three years,” Conroy said.

When asked prior to the meeting for his comment, Councilman Marchese said that state limitations are partially responsible for the delay in settling the contract which has been discussed with the union representatives.

“Due to Governor Corzine’s limit of the spending cap in the 2009 budget, there may not be enough money for the raises. We may have to lay people off if the raises are given as asked for by the union workers and if we do not receive state aid,” he said.

“We would love to settle for a multi-year contract, but right now can only offer a one-year contract,” Marchese said. “We are looking at all the City workers needs, but due to the state cap we have to look at things differently.”

According to the shop steward, Ms. Conroy, meetings with a state mediator will take place in the month of May when a fact-finding committee will review the union’s request and the City’s offer.

Also in the crowd of employees outside City Hall were representatives of the Steelworker’s Union 8229, who have been working without a contract for the last 1½ years.

Rick Waddington, president of the Local 8229, said they were asking for a fair raise also.

Once the meeting was re-convened at the Gloucester Heights Fire Hall, members of the city PBA and others questioned the governing body about possible lay-offs in the police department.

“We are doing everything to keep our City safe,” the mayor said.

“We do not have a police contract. We do not want arbitration. We want a contract,” said the representative of the PBA.

Once the meeting was re-convened at the Gloucester Heights Fire Hall, the governing body approved an anti-graffiti ordinance, adopted a redevelopment plan for Block 256, Lot 1, and provided for an amendment of chapter 66a of the Gloucester City code entitled Public User Fees.

The public user fees will be used in connection with the Chatham Square Apartments. The City has taken over the apartment complex and is planning extensive renovations and much needed improvements for the property.

A resident asked if the fines that were to be paid by the owners of the Chatham Square Apartments were waived when the City took over the property.

“Yes, the fines were considered in the purchase price of $4.2 million,” Mayor James said.

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