TIPS AND SNIPPETS
By Bill Cleary
MORE LEGAL TROUBLES FOR CITY OF GLOUCESTER CITY-Political activists John Schmidt and Mark Walters have filed a lawsuit against the City of Gloucester City, the Gloucester City Board of Education, and the Gloucester City Housing Authority. Specifically Municipal Clerk Kathy Jentsch, School Board Business Administrator Margaret McDonnell, and Sue McElhaton custodian of records for the Housing Authority. Walter Lauers, Esq. is their attorney. It was filed in Camden County Superior Court on March 3, 2011.
Schmidt and Matthews alleged the City Defendants have violated OPRA and OPMA by (1) denying Plaintiffs access to executive session meeting minutes of the governing body; (2) not timely approving executive session minutes; (3) not providing meetings minutes of the City’s Fire Advisory Committee; (4) denying access to the meeting minutes of the Mayor’s Advisory Committee and a list of the 2010 Mayor’s Advisory Committee members; (5) and holding a secret, illegal council meeting on January 2, 2011, prior to the City’s annual reorganization meeting, to select committee assignments.
Furthermore the twosome allege the Board Defendants have violated OPMA by (1) entering into executive session meetings without sufficiently identifying the reasons for entering into executive session, as required by OPMA; and (2) creating and approving executive session meeting minutes that are not reasonably comprehensible and are, in fact, uniformly uninformative.
Allegedly the Authority Defendants have (1) violated OPMA by refusing to release executive session meeting minutes for the time period of January to December 2010; and (2) redacting all of the descriptions of attorney services from the invoices of the Authority’s outside attorneys.
Besides asking for the information cited the plaintiffs are seeking attorney fees and costs. Schmidt is a college student studying political science and Walters is a former City fireman who is disabled. He ran unsuccessfully for council last November. Both individuals are unflinching critics of Mayor William James and his administration.
When Gloucester City Solicitor John Kearney was asked about the lawsuit, he said, “The City has not been served with this lawsuit but will certainly answer it.”
THE SAGA CONTINUES-Schmidt’s actions recently started a public firestorm involving the Gloucester City Fire Department, Washington Township Fire Chief John Hoffman and City Administrator Jack Lipsett. Schmidt is named in the Gloucester County Times article Washington Township Chief’s e-mails links 2 fire fights as the source of the controversy. The article is about e-mail messages sent between Lipsett and Hoffman who are friends.
From the NJ.com article...
The e-mails, along with documents on fire department issues and others in both towns, were obtained through Open Public Records Act (OPRA) requests made by Gloucester City resident and government watchdog John Schmidt.
"The more I think about it, the more perplexed I am that you guys were ever able to support that number of full time paid firefighters, ever, even doing EMS (emergency medical services)," Hoffman wrote in one e-mail to Lipsett.
"For a town of 11,400, that is unbelievable to me, and it sounds like both the career staff and the volunteer staff have ruined each other's reputations instead of working together for a common mission."
Hoffman said he was trying to help a friend and colleague, as he often does in his field, but he conceded he was wrong in making several of the comments.
He sent a letter of apology to Gloucester City firefighter and Washington Township resident Stephen Quinn, who appeared at several of his local fire commissioners' meetings and called Hoffman out on the comments.
"I erroneously offered comment and opinion regarding the Gloucester City Fire Department," Hoffman wrote to Quinn. "I now recognize and admit that my communications were unacceptable and out of line."
Quinn and other union members, however, are demanding an apology to Gloucester City Chief Brian Hagan and the fire department's other members.
In a response letter to Hoffman, Local 51 President Jeffrey Sanderson demanded the same. He rejected Hoffman's claim that he did not intend to engage in "misdeeds toward the members of the Gloucester City Fire Department, its fire chief or its ability to serve the public."
Sanderson and Quinn have maintained that Hoffman's comments may have contributed to harming Gloucester City firefighters' efforts at keeping what they consider necessary staffing during negotiations.