Our state has a strict law, “The Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA),” commonly referred to as the Sunshine Law. Why? Because transparency is the enemy of corruption. The law states that the business of the people can only be conducted in public for all to see. Any elected official that seeks to skirt this law in any manner, shape or form is violating the public trust.
The issue that has troubled our resident in Summit recently is the manner in which five members of Council are attempting to govern. On very rare occasions, Ordinances or Resolutions have been proposed by Councilpersons during the course of Council meetings. But it happened three times* recently and on one occasion four Council members read from prepared statements in favor of the just-introduced Resolution. It is simply not possible to have a prepared statement without prior knowledge of what is to be introduced. It was clear to me, the Mayor and Councilman Murphy that there must have been violations of the Sunshine Law. These three Ordinances/Resolutions had been developed by circumventing the principle of the law and at least in one case, the committee structure set up by the governing body. Moreover, the failure to post these three items on the agenda denied the public the right to review and comment because they had no prior knowledge that the items would be discussed. That is the purpose of the agenda, which is posted in many public places and on the City website prior to each meeting.
In an effort to determine how the five Council members seemingly had prior knowledge of the paid parking ordinance, a resident made an OPRA request (Open Public Records Act) for any communications regarding the paid parking issue. He received 440 pages of communications, none of which included Mayor Glatt, Councilman Murphy or myself. One included four Council members, which is a blatant violation of the Open Public Meetings Act because this communication included a majority of the governing body outside the public venue.
Two emails are particularly troublesome. In one, Councilwoman Portuondo attempted to set up a meeting to discuss the ordinance outside of the established committee structure. At one point she declared, “I have the five votes.” How could she possibly know she had five votes unless she had discussed this with the four others outside the public venue? Then, an email from Councilman Getzendanner to Councilpersons Dickson, Bomgaars, and Madden explains, “I’m willing to relent …” and he goes on to list the conditions under which he will support the parking ordinance that, again, has been discussed outside the committee structure, in violation of the OPMA and outside the public venue. These are just two examples of clear violations of the law.
There is no question that the intent, and in my opinion the letter, of the Sunshine Law has been violated. At the October 18 Council meeting when this resident reported his findings, rather than receiving answers to his specific questions about these findings, the citizens of Summit had to endure poor attempts to rationalize and obfuscate the facts. My view is simple, you cannot have any discussions, even one on one to avoid “a quorum,” if the intent of those discussions is to conduct the public’s business outside the public domain. Transparency is the only way to preserve the public trust.
Our city solicitor will, once again, spend his time investigating these allegations to determine the proper course of action. Is this the way you want the business of running our great city to be done? As your Mayor, I promise to always promote transparency and allow our citizens the right to full disclosure and discussion.
* A Resolution to censure me (later rescinded) for exposing this Council’s violation of the Sunshine Law; a Resolution asking Councilman Getzendanner to resign for numerous attempts to commit fraud; and an Ordinance to change to a paid parking system at our DeForest lots funded by an $800,000 city bond.
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