Thursday, September 10, 2015

Englewood Cliffs Borough Council Closed Meeting Minutes

Clerk Duffy: (via e-mail on September 10, 2015)

Based on the on-line version of the Council's September 9, 2015 meeting agenda, I believe that that Council approved the minutes from the following closed meetings: April 18, 2012, May 9, 2012, June 13, 2012, July 11, 2012, October 10, 2012, November 20, 2012, December 3, 2012, December 12, 2012, March 13, 2013, May 8, 2013, June 12, 2013, July 10, 2013, August 14, 2013, October 9, 2013, December 11, 2013, February 11, 2014, April 9, 2014, May 14, 2014, June 18, 2014, July 9, 2014, and August 25, 2014.

While there are still some closed meeting minutes that haven't been approved (e.g. September 10, 2014, October 6, 2014 and November 12, 2014), I understand from our August 31, 2015 telephone conversation that these minutes, together with those closed sessions held during the first half of 2015, will be prepared and approved at the October 14, 2015 Council Meeting.

Given this, I will not file an Open Public Meetings Act lawsuit against the Borough prior to October 14, 2015.

Thank you for your cooperation in this regard.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Englewood Cliffs Mayor violated ethics law, fined $100.

After a three and a half year investigation, New Jersey's Local Finance Board (LFB) concluded that Englewood Cliffs Mayor Joseph C. Parisi, Jr. violated the Local Government Ethics Law (LGEL) and assessed a $100 fine against him.

The matter was originated by a March 7, 2012 complaint filed by John Paff and the New Jersey Libertarian Party.  The complaint alleged that Parisi, who served on the Board of Directors of North Jersey Community Bank and as Chairman of Otterstedt Insurance Agency, failed to recuse himself from the Borough Council's 2010 consideration of a $9.8 million Board of Education budget that voters had rejected.  At the time of the discussions, the Board of Education had active accounts with both North Jersey Community Bank and Otterstedt Insurance Agency. The record reflects that Parisi advocated making "no cuts" the the Board's budget.  The Notice of Violation and complaint are on-line here.

The LFB found that Parisi "had a direct or indirect financial or personal involvement that might reasonably be expected to impair his objectivity or independence."  The Local Government Ethics Law, N.J.S.A. 40A:9-22.9 sets the minimum fine at $100 and the maximum at $500.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Draft minutes of 07/09/14 public meeting disclosed more than a year later.

For some reason, the Borough Council has yet to approve the minutes of the regular meeting held on July 9, 2014.  In response to an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request, Administrator/Clerk Lisette M. Duffy disclosed a draft version of those minutes and advised me that "these minutes will be voted on at the next meeting."

Saturday, August 22, 2015

RE: Borough Council Executive Session Meeting Minutes

August 22, 2015

Hon. Joseph C. Parisi, Jr., Mayor and members of the
Englewood Cliffs Borough Council
482 Hudson Terrace
Englewood Cliffs, NJ 07632
via e-mail and Fax to 201-569-4356

Dear Mayor Parisi and Council members:

On August 12, 2015, I requested Minutes of the Borough Council executive sessions held between March 23, 2012 and June 10, 2015 except those for January 16, 2013 and February 13, 2013.  (I did not request the minutes from January 16, 2013 and February 13, 2013 because I have already posted them on my blog.)

In her August 21, 2015 response, Borough Administrator and Clerk Lisette M. Duffy provided me with the minutes of the executive sessions held on April 17, 2013; January 15, 2014; March 12, 2014; October 6, 2014 and November 12, 2014.   As for the remainder of the minutes, Duffy explained:
All remaining minutes (not included in the e-mail) are being reviewed by the Borough Attorney and will be provided to the Mayor and Council for their approval.  Once voted on, the approved the minutes [sic] will be available to the public.  As per your request, I can e-mail you the additional minutes once voted on. I anticipate all minutes will be voted on within the next 2 months.
Englewood Cliffs apparent cannot--in August 2015--produce minutes from more than two years ago. For example, the Borough Council went into executive session at its March 13, 2013 caucus meeting but those minutes, although within the scope of my August 12, 2015 request, were not disclosed. Those minutes, among many others, are apparently "being reviewed by the Borough Attorney" to be voted on "within the next two months."

I find the desultory manner in which the Borough keeps its executive session minutes unacceptable, especially given the Borough's past problems with meeting minutes.  In her April 13, 2015 article "Englewood Cliffs brings mystery over missing minutes to an end," Kim Lueddeke reported that the Borough's 2011 meeting minutes--both public and executive--"never existed."  While all the minutes I am presently seeking are from meetings that took place after 2011, the fact that the Borough lost a years worth of it minutes should have caused the Council to tighten up the process by which its minutes are recorded, approved and maintained.

Also, see Chris Neidenberg's February 16, 2015 Northern Valley Press article "Five years of closed meeting minutes remain sealed."  In this article--written more than six months ago--Duffy, in response to Ms. McMorrow's request for five years worth of executive minutes, told McMorrow that the bulk of those minutes "will be released upon review by the mayor and council.  This will take some time, but those that are approved will be provided to you."  This is essentially the same refrain that Duffy is repeating to me six months later. Also in Neidenberg's article, Borough Attorney E. Carter Corriston, Sr. acknowledged that the Borough is "way behind on approving [its] minutes" and that he "is working on it."

With all due respect, the Borough Council has had ample time to review the executive session minutes within the scope of my request.  If I believed that waiting two more months, as Duffy requests, would cause the minutes to be disclosed, I'd be willing to wait.  Unfortunately, the Borough's election to dither during the past six months instead of getting its store in order causes me to believe that waiting another two months would be a waste of time.

Accordingly, I need for the Borough's indecisiveness to stop and for it do whatever needs to be done to get the 2013 and 2014 executive minutes within the scope of my August 12, 2015 request ready for disclosure, either in full or as redacted, by its September 9, 2015 meeting.  If there are any minutes within the scope of my request that, like the 2011 minutes, "don't exist," I ask that the Council come clean and just admit which minutes don't exist at the September 9, 2015 meeting. If the Council declines my invitation and continues to dither, I will enlist the aid of a Superior Court Judge to help refocus the Council's, Ms. Duffy's and Mr. Corriston's attention and priorities.

Very truly yours,

John Paff