NEWS, SPORTS, COMMENTARY, POLITICS for Gloucester City and the Surrounding Areas of South Jersey and Philadelphia

The Human Reasons Why Athletes Who Dope Get Away With It
Obituary | Ralph J. Caione of Ocean View

CNBNews Files Lawsuit Against Gloucester City's Custodian of Records for Denying OPRA Requests




By CNBNewsnet Staff


GLOUCESTER CITY NJ—William E. Cleary Sr., the owner and editor of ClearysNoteBook News (CNBNewsnet), filed a lawsuit on Monday (August 31, 2015) in Camden County Superior Court against Gloucester City Municipal Clerk Kathleen M. Jentsch who is the Records Custodian of the City of Gloucester for allegedly violating the Open Public Records Act (OPRA). 

Cleary filed three OPRA requests with Jentsch on July 12, 2015. 

Specifically Cleary sought information between the City of Gloucester and the NHP Foundation regarding the financing of City-owned property at Chatham Square, (Route 130 and Klemm Avenue). He also requested a copy of City Solicitor Wood’s report to the Gloucester City Council regarding the same issue. 

Furthermore, he requested all documents pertaining to the CBS/GTC remediation project from July 12, 2014, up until July 12, 2015. It is believed that Trans World Power has been retained or will be retained by Gloucester City to perform remediation work at the former Gloucester Titanium Company (GTC) site, located at the foot of Water Street.

Lastly he requested a copy of all correspondence sent from the Township of Haddon to the City of Gloucester regarding Sergeant Scrap, a scrap metal company in neighboring Haddon Township; and all correspondence received by Gloucester City regarding that company. 

Jentsch and the City of Gloucester denied Cleary’s requests on July 15, 2015 on the basis that “matter is currently in the negotiation stage” and that the “materials are in the possession of our attorney for that purpose.”

RELATED: The Secretive Gloucester City Council

Representing Cleary is attorney Walter M. Luers, of Clinton, NJ. 

Luers in his statement to the court states in part: 

The purpose of OPRA ‘is to maximize public knowledge about public affairs in order to ensure an informed citizenry and to minimize the evils inherent in a secluded process.’”  These lofty descriptions of the purposes of OPRA are not mere bromides or empty statements of legislative intent.  Our Supreme Court has stated that “Those who enacted OPRA understood that knowledge is power in a democracy, and that without access to information contained in records maintained by public agencies citizens cannot monitor the operation of our government or hold public officials accountable for their actions.”  Fair Share Housing Center, Inc. v. New Jersey State League of Municipalities, 207 N.J. 489, 502 (2011). 

 With these standards in mind, we address each of the OPRA issues presented by this case in turn.

 1. Correspondence Between the NHP Foundation Regarding

Financing And Solicitor Wood’s Report to the Gloucester City
Council Regarding the NHP Foundation

Correspondence between the NHP Foundation and Gloucester City are public records not subject to any exception.  There is no exception in OPRA for documents that might relate to or touch upon negotiations, except that documents or information that are created “in connection with collective negotiations” are not public records.  N.J.S.A. 47:1A-1.1.  Here, correspondence between the NHP Foundation and Gloucester City simple would not fall into any cognizable exception.

Regarding the report delivered by Solicitor Woods, it is less clear whether this report is confidential because it is not clear in what capacity Woods was working.  Any factual information conveyed by Woods to the Council would be public records, while information within the attorney-client privilege would probably not be public.

2. The CBS/GTC Documents

With respect to the CBS/GTC documents, they relate to an ongoing remediation project in Gloucester City.  Documents relating to the ongoing remediation are public records.  This includes correspondence to or from Gloucester City; the requested budget information; the Trans World Power handout distributed to the Mayor and Council at a Gloucester City meeting; correspondence between DEP and Gloucester City; and Gloucester City’s file regarding the remediation.

Defendants have asserted that the remediation is “in the negotiation stage” and that the materials are “in the possession of our attorney for that purpose.”  As discussed above, there is no OPRA exception for materials that relate to negotiations, except for collective bargaining negotiations.  And the fact that the materials are in the possession of outside counsel does not insulate the materials from OPRA.  The requested would not also be reflective of the deliberative process, because they are factual materials, not materials that reflect any deliberations of the governing body.

3. The “Sergeant Scrap” Letters

Defendants’ objection to producing the “Sergeant Scrap” letters on the basis of “attorney-client privilege” is simply confusing.  Plaintiff requested all correspondence received by Gloucester City regarding Sergeant Scrap and any correspondence sent from Haddon top Gloucester City regarding Sergeant Scrap.  Certainly, correspondence to or from Gloucester City would not be covered by the attorney-client privilege (or any other privilege).  The requested correspondence must be produced.

Luers added, “The Plaintiff is a reporter who has published and will continue to publish articles about Gloucester City. The interest of of Plaintiff and the public in disclosure of the requested records exceeds Defendants’ interest in continued secrecy.”

Cleary has been a journalist since 1968 and is the former editor and publisher of the Gloucester City News and Camden County Record. Five years after selling the Gloucester City News he founded CNBNews, ( which is an online publication established in 2006.  CNBNews provides news and opinion regarding the South Jersey and Philadelphia region, with a focus on Gloucester City.

Cleary is asking the court to order the defendant to release all the information he requested in July, as well as costs and reasonable attorneys fees.