Leading up to last night’s Special Town Council meeting in Montclair, there were concerns and questions from both constituents and politicians about the government process behind the proposed — and now executed — replacement of township attorney Alan Trembulak (including Deputy Mayor Terry, who criticized the process quite vocally at Monday’s meeting and likened the transparency of the proceedings to a piece of coal last night). Were the methods behind appointing Ira Karasick as new township attorney legally in the clear, or was there an opaqueness to the process that might have violated Open Public Meetings Act laws?
Baristanet was copied (along with the Montclair Times) on an email sent on Sunday, 9/26 by Cary Africk to the entire town council and Marc Dashield. In the email, Africk asks about the addition on the agenda of a discussion item “Township Attorney.” Africk wrote…
Can you please clarify, for the public, as well as the entire council, what this means?
Mayor Fried emailed back this response:
Marc requested this be on the agenda after conversations with Alan. I suggest you call him in the morning for details.
Baristanet asked open government advocate John Paff about the process of replacing the town attorney. Here’s what he said:
When the Legislature enacted the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) in 1975, it sought to ensure that citizens could “witness in full detail all phases of the deliberation, policy formulation, and decision making of public bodies” and declared that such “is vital to the enhancement and proper functioning of the democratic process; that secrecy in public affairs undermines the faith of the public in government and the public’s effectiveness in fulfilling its role in a democratic society. . .” N.J.S.A. 10:4-7.
Replacing a municipal attorney is of great public interest. If a majority of the Council has already deliberated and decided this matter in private and intends on passing a pro forma resolution to replace its attorney, this violates the OPMA because it deprives the public of witnessing the deliberations and decision making that led to the decision. The OPMA requires more than a perfunctory, formal act ratifying a decision previously made behind closed doors.
Baristanet shared Paff’s email (above) with town council last night and requested a response from each of them. We’ve heard back from Africk and Murnick.
Councilor Cary Africk expressed his agreement to Paff’s statement in an email:
I respect, and fully agree with, Mr. Paff’s comments. I wholeheartedly support both the spirit and the letter of the law of OPMA.
2nd Ward Councilor
After last night’s meeting, Africk posted this on his FaceBook page:
Ugly Council Meeting today. Started off with presiding leader of the Council saying no public input would be allowed before a controversial vote. The packed room began hissing and booing and a vote was taken. They were allowed to speak. The crowd spoke eloquently, and they were ignored in the subsequent voting. Go figure. Just remember: “all politics is politics.”
Rich Murnick also sent a response to Baristanet by email, noting that he doesn’t usually share his views over the internet.
In response to your question on the process, I believe the answers will play out accordingly, I don’t know who’s correct here.
The other day we voted in a new JUDGE, Mr. Insley, I might have voted for someone else, but soon after drove to Newark to support him at his SWEARING IN ceremony.
Last night I voted for Alan Trembulak, he lost, and I now wish our new attorney well. What disturbs me is that I was not invited to the SWEARING IN cermony last night. I believe the attorney represents the entire township and not just the Mayor.
Going forward there are many changes that need to be addressed. I voted NO on the budget because I feel if we can create savings by taking monies this year in 2010 then lets take them this year. Label Street sale and Sewer Connection fees have to be considered…just to name a few. Obviously the Mayor feels that the budget is done, and with a 10 percent municipal increase 2010 is in the books.
I need to look forward to correct this Revenue shortfall and now must focus on the future of the montclair taxpayer:
In 2011 I am forming a buget committee formed by the people and we will have monthly reports to the council.. WE NEED TO CUT today NOT next year at this time.
We need to budget for the next 3 to 5 years.
The DCH property and smart development should be a top priority for Montclair.
The Parking Authority cannot lose the money it lost for the township the last few years.
The insurance costs and healthcare costs have to be tackled and reduced.
Underutilized township properties have to begin to generate revenue.
Safety is very important, Police and Fire are mandatory, yet we have to create additional partnerships with surrounding towns to decrease costs.
These are a few things… We have all talked about these ideas but nothing is in place. I AM CALLING FOR AN ACTION PLAN for 2011.. NOW… TODAY OCTOBER 1st 2010.
First Ward Councilman
Do you think proper public notification was provided prior to the appointment of Karasick and were OPMA laws honored? And what do you think about the council’s ability to be effective, given that relationships and communication between them seem as strained as they do from emails and interactions at yesterday’s special meeting?