By Bill Cleary
GLOUCESTER CITY NJ--We are still trying to get a response to some simple questions about the purchase of the two Monmouth Street properties in December by the Gloucester City Economic Development Corporation (GCEDC). When we started our inquiry on *December 31 we were looking for a few lines of information to use in our weekly Tips and Snippets column.
*See email below to Municipal Clerk Kathy Jentsch.
As the weeks passed we learned that mayor and council approved an ordinance on December 20 transferring most of the duties of the City’s Urban Enterprise Zone Office (UEZ) to a new entity called the Gloucester City Economic Development Corporation(GCEDC). This a group of 7 people, all volunteers. That ordinance is major news. After all, the City’s UEZ was created in 2004. The fact that the UEZ was being phased out of operation, is information that should have been announced by mayor and council in a formal press release.
Our only reason for pursuing this story is that we feel that Gloucester City residents have a right to know how their tax dollars are being spent. How much did the GCEDC pay for each property? How much money did the committee borrow from the City’s UDAG program to buy the real estate?
This reporter has been representing the public for over 40 years. During that time I have never been given such a-run-around as I have been in this case by the James administration.
*12/31/2012 6:08 PM, Bill Cleary wrote via Email:
Last week I noticed the city purchased two commercial properties in the 500 block of Monmouth Street. Would you be able to answer the following questions about that purchase? If not please forward by email to the person who can.
I like to know how much they paid for both buildings?
They have been on the market for years do you know how long they have been 4Sale?
Where did the money come from to purchase the properties?
Was it the UEZ?
If so how much does the UEZ have it their treasury?
What is the purpose for the purchase?
Besides these two properties how many other residential/commercial properties does the City and its many subcommittees own?
Thank you so much,
January 1, 2013 the city clerk replied,
Bill, I do not have any information on these purchases. I have sent your email to Jack (Lipsett)and John Kearney for a response from one of them.
We are still waiting for that response from either Lipsett or Kearney .
Shortly thereafter we received another email from the city clerk,
“I've asked around and the EDC purchased the Monmouth St. properties using a UDAG loan. I suggest you contact Bob Booth (Gloucester Travel) with any other questions pertaining to the purchase of these properties”.
On January 7 we contacted Booth, owner of Gloucester Travel, via email asking the same questions we asked Jentsch.
After two or three days without a response we decide to call Booth on the phone. He says he can’t speak for the corporation and can’t answer our questions. He went on to say he would talk with the board Chairman David Stallwood (owner of DJ’s Auto Electronics) and put together a press release promising us a copy when it is ready. When we don’t receive the press release we contact Stallwood by phone. We never get a response to the message we left.
After jumping through so many “hoops” and getting no where we are left with only one recourse: submit an OPRA request to the Custodian of Records, who is Kathy Jentsch, the same individual we contacted in the very beginning of this saga on December 31. Helping us with the OPRA requests is Rick Gonzales, who has knowledge of that state law.
Below is our first OPRA request along with a follow up letter.
January 30, 2013
Gloucester City Custodian of Records
512 Monmouth Street
Gloucester City NJ 08030
SUBJECT: OPRA REQUEST
I am writing an article about the Gloucester City Economic Development Committee (GCEDC), also known as the Economic Development Committee(EDC). As such would you please provide me the following information along with other documents that may pertain to my requests.
All documents/records resulting in any and all UDAG loans to the GCEDC/EDC. Including but not limited to the following records;
(1) Minutes of City Council and GCEDC/EDC meetings referring to UDAG loans.
(2) Audio tapes of City Council and GCEDC/EDC meetings referring to UDAG loans.
(3) All correspondence between the governing body, city officials and UDAG officials both written and electronic.
(4) Correspondence between the governing body, city officials and any and all members of the GCEDC/EDC both written and electronic.
Please do not withhold readily available records beyond the legal delivery date. I have asked Rick Gonzales to help me. As such, he will be an assistant reviewer.
William E. Cleary
CNBNews/Gloucester City News
PS: Please call me when readily available records are timely available. I will then schedule an appointment to review the available records and identify records I wish to purchase, if any.
Reply from Jentsch, February 7, 2013
It will be very expensive to respond to your request as it is unlimited in scope and would require me to literally look at every piece of paper and computer record the City has. Your request should have a start date and end date. If you request a document such as minutes which contain a certain item would need to search all of those minutes or you could request the minutes for a specific time period and look for what you want. For correspondence/email you must supply a date range, sender, recipient and subject matter.
That being said enclosed is the ordinance concerning the EDC
Note: As mentioned above this is first time we hear about an ordinance being passed approving the GCEDC by mayor and council.
Our response to Jentsch, February 8, 2013
Having read your response I believe there may be a misunderstanding.
“It will be very expensive to respond to your request as it is unlimited in scope and would require me to literally look at every piece of paper and computer record the City has. Your request should have a start date and end date. If you request a document such as minutes which contain a certain item would need to search all of those minutes or you could request the minutes for a specific time period and look for what you want. For correspondence/email you must supply a date range, sender, recipient and subject matter.
That being said enclosed is the ordinance concerning the EDC
My search for public information contained in public records was formalized in my submission dated 1-30-2013. As such, I am entitled to a review of all requested records listed in my request. If you are denying my request please list by item number what is being denied and the reason for each denial. As required by law this must be given to the requestor in writing on or before the legal delivery date.
I fail to see what unusual expense would be incurred by review of all meeting minutes which have been filed covering the area of concern. Likewise, I fail to see the unusual expense associated with producing the discs that contain the audio records of meetings of the past. Similarly I don’t believe it would be difficult to produce copies of existing email communication between the Mayor, the Administrator, the EDC and the UDAG, or existing request forms for funds and transfers.
The ordinance you provided identifies the EDC as an extension of the Gloucester City governing body. Therefore the EDC is required to follow all the same rules for record keeping and storage as the governing body. That means that all their minutes and finances are public records.
If it helps you to understand the time period of interest I will establish a calendar date. You, the governing body, stated that the EDC was formed in June 2012. Since it is reasonable to assume that discussion and planning took place prior to June 2012 I will establish a calendar date of January 1, 2012 as the start date of my records search.
Please be advised that I am seeking full disclosure and will seek a third party decision in order to gain access to all denied records
PS: I have also enclosed a completed Gloucester City Government Records Request Form (GRRF) which I forgot to include with my original request. Likewise I have enclosed a copy of my January 30, 2013 correspondence.
In closing we apologize for such a long article, but we thought it was important for you, the taxpayer, to see the hassle the city is putting CNBNews through as we try to find out how much of your money is being spent by the James administration on this latest venture into the real estate market.
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