FLEMINGTON, NJ – Selling copies of Hunterdon County’s public records has become a sideline for Nick Corcodilos, a publisher and former Clinton Township mayor.
“For several years the Freeholders have been creating a market for a product that’s never been available in Hunterdon,” Corcodilos told the Freeholders at their Sept. 3 meeting. So he’s offering digital audio recordings of Hunterdon Freeholder meetings - going back to 2017 - on his website,
They’re for sale and “instant download” on exmayor.com. And depending on what you might seek, Corcodilos may be your only source.
Corcodilos, along with some other residents including Barbara Sachau of Raritan Township, have pleaded with the Freeholders to post audio of their minutes online. Both have argued that many residents are unable to attend Freeholder meetings, because the public sessions begin at 5:30 p.m. and usually last for only about an hour.
Many other local entities do post audio of their meetings, such as the Flemington-Raritan school board and East Amwell Township Committee. Flemington Borough goes one step further, and both posts and live streams audio and video of its Borough Council meetings, something Mayor Betsy Driver has long supported and has worked to improve.
Former Freeholder Rob Walton advocated for the County to post its audio. Nearly three years ago, Freeholder John Lanza said he “philosophically” agreed with Walton, and would wait “not much longer” for the County to take that action.
But Freeholders have resisted, with Freeholder Matt Holt concerned about how the audio could be protected from tampering “and archived in their entirety.”
Corcodilos told the Freeholders that their recordings were subject to deletion by the County, “and that’s a market I intend to fulfill.” He told them that while the County’s economic development efforts seek to attract millennials to Hunterdon, “Millennials get their information from podcasts.”
“The fact that I can’t listen to your public business after you conduct your meetings is frankly absurd. You’re way behind the times,” Corcodilos said. “Taylor Swift can conceive, record and issue an album of new songs faster than you can publish your own meeting recordings.”
The Freeholders didn’t respond to Corcodilos until after he left the meeting.
“I notice he didn’t stay to thank me,” Freeholder John Lanza finally said near the very end of the meeting. He recalled that when he was Freeholder Director in 2017, “I ordered that those tapes be preserved. By state law, we’re only required to keep them for 90 days.” He issued the order “in anticipation of one day having all of those recordings posted online,” something subsequent Freeholder Directors have also ordered, he said.
Drawing chuckles from the few in attendance, Lanza said, “Best of luck, Mr. Corcodilos, with your business, selling things to people they can get for free, that we have preserved since 2017.”
Who’s telling the truth?
Corcodilos obtains his recordings by filing Open Public Records requests with the county. To test the conflicting claims, TAPinto filed a public records request for audio of five random Freeholder meetings spanning a three-year period. The County provided copies of three of them. The two others – from March 21 and Aug. 22 of 2017 – were not provided “because they were disposed of,” County Records Custodian Samantha M. Gravelle wrote.
In her response, she provided a copy of the “Request and Authorization for Records Disposal” that the County filed with the state Department of the Treasury, Records Management Services. The request, made last year, was approved by then-County Clerk Denise Dolan before it was submitted to the state. It shows that all of the audio recordings made between Jan., 2017 and April, 2018 were deleted.
Corcodilos wasn’t surprised.
“I've put all the available Freeholder meeting recordings online," Corcodilos said. "I challenge Mr. Lanza and the Freeholders to do the same. It's a promise he made three years ago and has failed to keep. What are they hiding?"
Hunterdon Administrator Kevin Davis said the County’s Information Technology staff is working to see if it can recover the deleted recordings. As he noted, the deletion of a computer file does not necessarily mean that it cannot be recovered by an expert.