Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Record: In Englewood Cliffs, all requests for informatin must go through mayor

In Englewood Cliffs, all requests for information must go through mayor

The Record

ENGLEWOOD CLIFFS — All requests for "non-emergent information" from the borough's administrative offices will now go through Mayor Joseph Parisi Jr. first.
The Borough Council adopted a resolution last week that states: "Joseph C. Parisi, Mayor of Englewood Cliffs, does hereby requires [sic] that all future requests for non-emergent information be sent to his office for approval."
Republican Councilwoman Carrol McMorrow was the lone dissenter. Democrats Joseph Favaro, Edward Aversa and Gloria Oh voted for it. Council members Ilan Plawker and Melanie Simon, also Democrats, were absent.
Although the agenda for Wednesday's meeting notes that the requirement is for "requests by department heads and council," the four-line resolution itself does not specify to whom it applies or what constitutes "non-emergent information."
"It is unfortunate that the mayor feels the need to control the flow of information, whether it be to our residents, council or department heads," McMorrow said Thursday. "In my opinion, council members and department heads should have available to them whatever information they feel they need to do their job effectively."
Parisi said Sunday that the resolution applies only to elected officials and department heads.
"The public can do whatever they want through the proper channels," he said. "I want them to call our personnel. Our personnel will be available to them."
He said he hopes to serve as an intermediary between council members and department heads and the borough administrator, to help alleviate the many requests for information fielded by the administrator's office. "A lot of things I'll know the answer to," he said.
As examples of "non-emergent information," he cited requests for the past 10 years of tax appeals and lists of children playing youth baseball. He said he would like to know why such information is requested, especially when it involves contacting one of the professionals hired by the borough, who charge hourly rates.
"I just wanted everyone to understand that time is important," Parisi said.
At the Wednesday meeting, resident Jack Geyer questioned how the resolution would affect residents.
"Does that mean that if I want to talk to Mark in DPW, I have to ask for a request from you, and how is the request made?" Geyer asked. "Do I mail it to you?"
Parisi responded that the resolution does not apply to residents.
At the meeting, he said he hopes the resolution will create a smoother transition from former Clerk/Administrator Susan McGinley Spohn, who died last month, to acting Clerk/Administrator Lisette Duffy, who was promoted from deputy clerk to the acting position.
Resident Lauren Eastwood asked what the point of the resolution was when Borough Council members, as members of the public, can file a request for information under the state's Open Public Records Act.
Parisi said he doesn't believe council members should file such requests.
"I have a problem with an elected official splitting themselves in half," he said.
"They have a right to do an OPRA request, but I'm just trying to make things more efficient."
But McMorrow, the lone Republican holding local office, said she would resort to that if she has to.
"If the borough office refuses to provide me the information I need to effectively do my job, I will join our residents in utilizing the Open Public Records Act as well," she said.
Thomas Cafferty, general counsel for the New Jersey Press Association, said the resolution appears to apply to anyone seeking information.
Cafferty said the public and Borough Council members have a right to request documents under the state's Open Public Records Act and the law specifies to whom those requests are to be submitted.
"If it's intended to apply to request under the Open Public Records Act, it creates a problem because the clerk is the custodian of records," Cafferty said.

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