Friday, February 28, 2014

Tenure charges against Mullica teacher now on-line

I read an article in the Press of Atlantic City about a Mullica Township (Atlantic County) teacher who may be fired because she found two of her kindergarten students naked in the bathroom.  The article is on-line here.

What struck me was the statement in the article that "the Board of Education met Wednesday night in executive session to determine whether to certify the charges . . . but refused to tell the public whether it had certified the complaint."  I thought the public has a right to be informed of what action the school board ultimately took.

I submitted an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request to the school board and learned today that the board did certify the charges.  The tenure charges, the teacher's response and related documents are on-line here.

Dunellen: No paper trail of towing license appeal resolution

February 28, 2014

Hon. Robert J. Seader, Mayor, and members of the
Dunellen Borough Council
355 North Avenue
Dunellen, NJ  08812
via e-mail only to William M. Robins, RMC at wrobins@dunellenborough.com

Dear Mayor Seader and Council members:

I have placed on-line here a copy of Clerk William Robins' February 28, 2014 response to my February 19, 2014 records request for records pertaining to the disposition of R&D Towing's appeal of the Borough's revocation and denial of its towing license for 2009 and 2010.

As you will recall, and Richard and Dawn Sabik, the owners of R&D Towing, and I had commented several times during the public address portions of Borough Council meetings about the status of this matter.  You may also be aware that I created a web page (on-line here) that question the legitimacy of R&D Towing's removal from the list when that company was replaced, without Borough Council action, by another towing company that employed Mayor Seader's brother in law.

As you will also recall, the Borough had held at least one hearing on the appeal and had authorized $10,000 to pay for a Special Prosecutor and Hearing Officer to conduct additional hearings.

Then, apparently out of the blue and without regard to the pending appeal, R&D Towing was placed back on the Borough's towing rotation list and, according to Mr. Robins, there is apparently no writing that resolves the appeal.  The reason I state that there is no writing is because of Mr. Robins' statement that:
No documents are in the custodian's possession such that would satisfy this request. Upon information and belief, R&D Towing abandoned its appeal of the revocation/denial of its towing license for 2009/2010.  (emphasis supplied).
I am having a hard time believing that this matter could be allowed to resolve without at least some sort of writing confirming the resolution.  Do you agree with me that it would be appropriate for the Borough to enter into some sort of written agreement that would memorialize the withdrawal or other disposition of this appeal?  Otherwise, reasonable minds could differ as to whether the matter has indeed been resolved.  Would you please discuss this matter at the March 3, 2014 Council meeting?

Thank you for your attention to this matter.  I look forward to hearing from you.

Very truly yours,

John Paff






Thursday, February 27, 2014

New Jersey Senator seeks to shrink drug free zones

Jersey City Senator Sandra B. Cunningham (D-31) has introduced Senate Bill No. 477, which, if passed, would reduce the "drug free school zones" and "public property zones" from 1,000 feet to 200 feet.  Cunningham states that the "high concentration" of public lands and schools in urban areas result in the various drug free zones "often cover[ing] most of the geographical area of a city."  She argues that this results in a "disproportionate number of urban residents being subject to the harsher penalties . . . as compared to suburban and rural residents."


Friday, February 21, 2014

Bissell Defense Fund reverted back to general revenue

Back in the late 1990's, after the downfall of Somerset County Prosecutor Nicholas L. Bissell, Somerset County established a $1 million dollar fund to defend the county from lawsuits filed by anyone who claimed to have been harmed by Bissell's actions.

On January 30, 2014, I submitted an Open Public Records Act request for the disposition of this account. After a few extensions were negotiated, County Council William T. Cooper, III informed me that although he cannot find "any specific records pertaining to this account, the account had been cancelled and that the account balance of approximately $1.6 million had been "released back to general revenue" in 2008 and 2010. 

My OPRA request and Mr. Cooper's response are on-line here.

Mr. Cooper indicated that there might be further records, but if I wanted the County to search for those records he would have to "utilize the services of the Auditing firm Supplee, Clooney & Associates."  This, according to Cooper would "obviously involve an expense" which would be passed onto me.



Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Bound Brook Board of Education: Additional Documents

The lawsuits filed in Bound Brook Board of Education v. Carole Deddy, Docket No. SOM-C-12050-12 and Shari Duddy v. Bound Brook Board of Education, Docket No. SOM-L-988-11 Both allege the existence of documents that might help the public understand what is going on at the school board.  I submitted Open Public Records Act (OPRA) requests for two of these documents and have provided links to them below.

Paragraph 18 of the Deddy lawsuit states that "[o]n March 18, 2011, Board counsel from the law firm of Parker McCay sent a five-page letter to the Somerset County Prosecutor summarizing various illegal actions and schemes by a staff member."  The five page letter, on-line here, was written by attorney Russell Weiss, Jr. and sets forth eight specific "schemes," most of which involve a vendor named Circle Systems and allege "an expenditure of public funds for personal use items."

Paragraph 49 of the Duddy lawsuit refers to a letter from Bruce W. Padula, the school board's attorney.  That letter, which is on-line here, accuses Duddy of creating "a fabrication and misrepresentation . . . in an attempt to bolster a legally baseless harassment cause of action and manufacture a whistleblower claim."  The claim that Mr. Padula refers to was recently settled for $250,000.

Was $150K paid in 2011 to settle Wildwood officer's harassment suit?

I'm not sure if there has been any newspaper coverage of the settlement of Richard J. Adair's lawsuit against Gary DeMarzo and the City of Wildwood.  The lawsuit I mean is not the one in which DeMarzo was forced to choose between his job with the police department or his position on the City Commission, but the one where Adair claimed the DeMarzo retaliated against him after he (Adair) investigated an Internal Affairs complaint that led to "major disciplinary charges" being filed against DeMarzo.

Although the City's response to my OPRA request was incomplete (see my e-mail to Karen Gose below), it appears that the City's insurer proposed that the suit be settled for $150,000.  I haven't seen anything about this in the newspapers' archives.

I will post the protective order and actual settlement agreement when they are provided.  What I've received so far from the City is on-line here.

John Paff, Chairman
New Jersey Libertarian Party's
Open Government Advocacy Project
paff@pobox.com

----------------------
Dear Ms. Gose:

I am in receipt of your e-mail and attachment pertaining to my OPRA request for documents related to Adair v. Demarzo, et al, Docket No. CPM-L-727-09.  You provided me with a 28-page PDF file that contained the 10/22/2009 complaint (spanning pages 4 - 28) and a June 13, 2011 letter from Scibal and Associates, Inc. (spanning pages 2 - 3) that recommended to the Mayor and Council that Adair's suit be settled for $150,000. 

Please review the original OPRA request (page 1) and note that I asked for three distinct records:

1. The complaint, which was filed on or about 10/22/09.
2. The Protective Order, which was filed on or about 05/27/10.
3. The Settlement Agreement between the parties, that was NOT filed but was entered into in or about Summer of 2011.

Of these three items, only #1 was furnished.  Your response completely ignores #2 and instead of providing me the "settlement agreement" requested in #3, you sent me a letter from Scibal asking the Mayor and Council if it had a problem with settling for $150,000.

Please furnish me with the documents that are responsive to this request.

Very truly yours,

Thirteen-year-old Wildwood police video not disclosable.

I found an unpublished, April 21, 2011 decision by Judge Nelson C. Johnson in the case of City of Wildwood v. Cape May County, Docket No. CPM-L-656-10, concerning the City's request for disclosure of a videotape taken at the Wildwood Police Department on December 10, 2000.

The videotape caught an incident that Wildwood Police Sergeant (now Captain) Robert N. Regalbuto had with an arrestee identified only by his initials, B.L.C.  According to the court's decision, neither the Wildwood Police nor Cape May County Prosecutor's Office, after review of the video, brought charges or imposed discipline against Regalbuto.

Nearly ten years after the incident, the City became interested in the video because of "alleged incidents of police abuse" and "selective enforcement" claimed by attorneys for former Wildwood Police Sergeant David Romeo who was previously convicted of official misconduct for kicking two handcuffed suspects while they were lying on the ground.  The City submitted an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request for the video.  The Cape May County Prosecutor's office, claiming that the video was a "criminal investigatory record" blocked release and took custody of the video.  Even though the Prosecutor refused to allow the City to have a copy of the video, he did offer the City an opportunity to view the video at the Prosecutor's office.

In sum, Judge Nelson C. Johnson found that a) the video was exempt under OPRA as a "criminal investigatory record," and b) that the City's interest in obtaining a copy of the video, especially in light of the fact that City official were permitted to view it, did not exceed the Prosecutor's need for confidentiality.

More information and a copy of the court's opinion are available here.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Assault alleged against Wildwood employee and Mayor's son's brother in law

Update: I received a call from Mayor Troiano on 02/11/14 at 4 p.m. asking for a correction to the article below.  Mayor Troiano took exception to the statement that Michael A. Blanda was his relative.  The mayor told me that Blanda is his son's brother-in-law and for that reason he is not related to the mayor.
A July 25, 2013 altercation between two men at a local electrical supply store has led to cross complaints against the two participants.  According the the police reports (on-line here) one of the men is a city employee and a relative of Mayor Ernest Troiano Jr.

The incident occurred at about 10:15 a.m. at Billows Electric at 3901 New Jersey Avenue, Wildwood.  Jack Gallagher, 55, called police and reported that he had been assaulted.  According to police records, he was in Billows speaking to Mike Marsden "about the City of Wildwood" when their conversation was overhead by Michael A. Blanda, 41, who works as a Senior Electrician for the City of Wildwood and who is a "relative of" Mayor Troiano. 

According to Gallagher's statement to police, Blanda reached out and grabbed Gallagher's throat and stated "I am going to kill you."  Blanda then reportedly pushed Gallagher against the wall.  At this point, a witness had to get between the two men to get Blanda to release his grip on Gallagher's throat.

According to Blanda's statement, Blanda, who wasn't at Billows when police arrived, walked into police headquarters at about 4:23 p.m. the next day, July 26, 2013, and complained that Gallagher had been speaking in an "verbally aggressive" and obscene manner about Mayor Troiano.  Blanda said that he asked Gallagher several times to stop talking about his family, but Gallagher "refused to comply."  Blanda said that he "grabbed Gallagher by the shirt and pushed him against the store back" but eventually "let go of Gallagher and walked out."

According to Patrolman Shawn A. Toffoli, who was dispatched to Billows and took Gallagher's and two witnesses' statements, he met with Blanda a short time later at the office of Wildwood Public Works Director Mark D'Amico.  According to Toffoli, Blanda "admitted he was wrong and should not have grabbed Gallagher" and admitted to being on City time at the time of this incident."

The incidents resulted in two municipal court complaints (on-line here), both of which have been transferred to the Stone Harbor Municipal Court. Docket No. 0514-S-2013-000892 charges Gallagher with harassment and Docket No. 0514-S-2013-000889 charges Blanda with simple assault.  According to my February 11, 2014 conversation with a Wildwood Municipal Court Deputy Administrator the courts are attempting to get both Blanda and Gallagher to participate in court supervised mediation.

Penns Grove Councilman guilty of lesser driver license charge

On February 5, 2014, Penns Grove Borough (Salem County) Councilman Carl J. Washington, Jr. was either found guilty of or pled guilty to the offense of Failing to Possess a Driver License, contrary to N.J.S.A. 39:3-29.  The finding (on-line here), which resolved Logan Township (Gloucester County) Municipal Court Summons No. 0809-L-071877, required Washington to pay a $131 fine, $33 in costs and $25 as a "miscellaneous" amount.

The summons, however, charged Councilman Washington with the much more serious offense of Driving with a Suspended License, contrary to N.J.S.A. 39:3-40.  That summons, issued on September 25, 2013, is on-line here.

According to a January 27, 2014 memo (on-line here) from Logan Municipal Court Administrator Rita M. Weber, Washington had failed to appear for his court hearing and a warrant had been issued for his arrest. His February 5, 2014 appearance satisfied the warrant.

Washington was previously cited in Penns Grove on May 18, 2011 for the more serious Driving with a Suspended License offense. That summons, which is on-line here, shows that he was fined $1,006 plus $33 in costs and was sentenced to 10 days in jail.  On January 31, 2012, Washington's conviction, fine and ten-day jail sentence was affirmed on appeal. (See order here.)

Monday, February 10, 2014

Unemployment benefits denial upheld for fired Newark Airport TSA screener

On February 10, 2014, a two-judge New Jersey Appellate Division panel affirmed a state labor board's denial of unemployment benefits to a Transportation Security Administration airport screening officer who avoided being screened herself when boarding a flight.

According to the decision, on-line here, Lisa W. Weems just finished her shift a Newark's Liberty Airport on July 3, 2009 when she, still in uniform, walked "in through the exit ramp" of Terminal C "without presenting her bags to be x-rayed and without passing through the metal detector."

Her flight to New Orleans had already taken off by the time security official, who saw Weems' conduct on video, could reach the gate. "Because of the security breach, the flight was called back to the gate and all 113 passengers were ordered to disembark and were rescreened."

Weems was fired about three months after the incident and applied for unemployment benefits.  She was originally granted unemployment but that decision was reversed after the TSA appealed. 

Weems has, altogether, filed three unsuccessful appeals of her denial of unemployment benefits, arguing that "there was no . . . policy which . . . required a TSA screening checkpoint employee, to be screened or have their baggage screened, while off or on duty, when their baggage is already in a sterile area."  The Appellate Division found that "there is no proof in the record where Weems kept her baggage while she worked her shift in Terminal A, even if it was stored in a sterile area in that terminal, she removed her baggage and traveled on the public monorail before entering Terminal C."



Sunday, February 9, 2014

Why was an ethics complaint against Hillside Board of Ed President and member withdrawn?

Update2:  I e-mailed Ms. Watson for information and received the following e-mail response:
          Sun, Feb 9, 2014 at 11:06 PM 
Good Day Mr. Paff,

I am in receipt of this email. I was not aware you even sent an email inquiring about such.
Unfortunately Mr. Cook have provided you with false information in regards to why I actually withdrew the complaint. 

I withdrew the complaint because it is the policy of the board to cover the legal cost of BOE members when such charges are filed. When we attended the hearing, the Administrative Law Judge explained the matter would need to go to trial.  Also based on other items on the docket it will be some time. So I decided it will be best to withdraw the complaint because of the financial drain it was causing the Hillside BOE. I believe the monies that were being paid for attorney fees for Mr. Cook and Mr.Trotte to defend themselves could have been used elsewhere in the district.  Mr. Cook is being untruthful in that my allegations were unsubstantiated.  Actually I was able thru OPRA request, to obtain the campaign donations for Mr.Cook run for several positions in Hillside which showed many donations from Mr. Montero.

I am responding because, the truth needs to be reported.

If you have any questions please feel free to contact me at this email.
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Update1:  I e-mailed Mr. Cook for information and received the following e-mail response:

Sun, Feb 9, 2014 at 2:14 PM

Mrs. Watson's  complaint was withdrawn after a hearing with the Office of Administrative Law. Many of her claims were unsubstantiated as Tony Montiero never served as anyone's campaign manager or donated to anyone's campaign. It is also relevant to note that these were RFP's and not RFQ's. The district does not have to take the lowest bid but can take the vendor that most matches what it was looking for. 
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 In her handwritten, January 16, 2013 letter, Hillside Township (Union County) Board of Education member Rayba Watson stated that she "would like to withdraw" her ethics complaint against Board President George Cook and former Board member Robert Trotte.

Watson filed her complaint on December 6, 2011 with the School Ethics Commission alleging that Cook and Trotte violated the New Jersey School Ethics Act by voting in favor of a $60,000 health insurance brokerage contract award to Fairview Insurance Agency Associates, Inc.  Watson alleged that Fairview's representative, Tony Monteiro, served as campaign manager for Cook's run for Hillside Township Council and may have "financially contributed to" Cook's Council campaign as well as Trotte's run for school board in April 2011.  She alleged that the pair voted to award the contract to Fairview at the Board's October 20, 2011 meeting despite having been previously told by Board attorney Perry Lattiboudere that they should recuse themselves from the meetings at which Fairview was interviewed by the Board.

The October 20, 2011 meeting minutes, attached to Watson's complaint, show that the motion to award Fairview the $60,000 contract was passed by a 5 to 3 vote with both Cook and Trotte voting in the affirmative.  Watson's complaint alleges that Fairview's contract was $12,000 more than those of two other brokers who were previously recommended by the Board's Finance Committee.

Watson's complaint was forwarded to the Office of Administrative Law and an April 24, 2012 Prehearing Order had scheduled the matter for a plenary hearing for September 28, 2012, approximately three months before Watson withdrew her complaint.

I am considering re-filing this ethics complaint myself, but would first like to learn whether the allegations in Watson's complaint are accurate and provable and the reason why she withdrew it.  Readers should feel free to send me material anonymously to John Paff, P.O. Box 5424, Somerset, NJ  08875.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Police Investigation sought for homeless man who allegedly died in Burlington County Jail

Update:  Response received from police:

February 4, 2014
      
Mr. Paff,

I have reviewed you’re the attached letter and will be following up with the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office.  My department responded to secure the scene and once the BCPO arrived the scene was turned over to them as they have jurisdiction in investigating the Burlington County Jail incidents.

Thank and I appreciate it.

Steve

Steven E. Martin
Chief of Police
Mount Holly Twp. Police Dept.
23 Washington Street
Mount Holly, NJ  08060
O: 609-845-1150
F: 609-845-1175
---------------------------------------------
February 4, 2014

Steven E. Martin , Director of Public Safety
Mount Holly Police
23 Washington Street
Mount Holly, NJ  08060
Via e-mail only to smartin@mountholly.info

Dear Director Martin:

I found a letter on-line (click here) from an inmate at the Burlington County Jail, which I understand is located within your jurisdiction.  As you can see, the letter writer, Inmate Sean C. Turzanski, states that a 74-year-old homeless man named Robert Taylor died while in custody. 

According to Turzanski's letter, Taylor, an alcoholic, was thrown naked, except for a suicide prevention vest, onto the cell's concrete floor and allowed to urinate and defecate on himself.  According to Turzanski's letter, Taylor remained in the same position on the jail cell's floor and did not take any meals for five days.  The letter states that Taylor was found dead on December 30, 2013. "They opened his cell to find him dead.  5 days, 15 meals, no water and still lying on the concrete floor naked where he was initially placed."

I have no idea whether Turzanski's statements are accurate.  But, the seriousness of the allegations, together with the fact that Turzanski has identified himself (and is available to be interviewed), warrants an investigation.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.  Please contact me if you have any questions.

Very truly yours,

John Paff
P.O. Box 5424
Somerset, NJ  08875
Voice: 732-873-1251
Fax: 908-325-0129
e-mail: paff@pobox.com