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Township Says It's Overwhelmed with OPRA Requests

Township officials called a meeting with local media to discuss OPRA requests. Blogger Harry Scheeler calls it an intimidation tactic. "I will be suing them," he vows.

Galloway Township has received 539 information requests since Oct. 4 of this year, compared with 242 received by the township all of last year, representatives of township council said during a meeting with members of the media at the municipal complex on Thursday morning, Dec. 22.

According to Mayor Don Purdy, that’s four times the number of requests Hamilton Township has received this year. The number of requests is tracked since Oct. 4, which was Kimberly Hodsdon's first day as township clerk.

Purdy, Deputy Mayor Tony Coppola, Councilman Brian Tyrrell and Hodsdon were present at the meeting with representatives from Galloway Patch, The Current and The Press of Atlantic City. The meeting was called after a request for information about OPRA requests, according to Purdy.

In addition to the fees related to processing requests, Hodsdon said many of her duties as clerk are falling by the wayside.

“Ninety percent of my time most days is spent on OPRA requests,” said Hodsdon, who added she has had to sacrifice time working on bonds and a new liquor license to fill the requests.

The township is not allowed to charge labor costs to fulfill requests unless it undergoes a 14-point analysis justifying its need to do so, Hodsdon said.

“We could’ve hired two new police officers for the legal and labor costs of these requests,” Purdy said. “We have issues that need to be taken care of.”

According to township officials, 223 separate requests have been filed by former clerk Lisa Tilton on 28 total information requests, and Harry Scheeler, publisher of the online blog site, gallowaytwpnews.com, has filed 229 separate requests on 15 different submissions through the state's Open Public Records Act.

Officials explained the discrepancy by stating that submissions may include multiple requests, and that each topic must be evaluated as it pertains to each individual named in the request.

Township officials passed around a log of what they said were all requests made since Oct. 4. Requests made by Patch and The Press were included, as were requests by other individuals and organizations. According to those numbers, The Press has filed five OPRA submissions, Patch has filed four and all others filing submissions amounted to 33.

An estimated $35,000-$40,000 has been spent by the township on the requests, according to officials:

  • $39.94 an hour for the township’s IT employee;
  • $120 an hour for the services of Township Solicitor Michael Blee; and
  • $56.86 an hour for the police representative who oversees OPRA requests for the department.

“The way the OPRA law was designed is for the public to know township business,” Purdy said.

The state's OPRA law does not limit the number of requests an individual can submit. 

In an interview Thursday evening, Scheeler characterized the meeting called by township officials Thursday morning as an intimidation tactic directed at him and Tilton.

“I will be suing them, and I’m more adamant than ever before about it,” Scheeler said. “Their conduct is unbelievable.”

Tilton didn’t return a message seeking comment.

Scheeler referenced a recent case involving the Sparta Board of Education, but Purdy stated he believes the incidents bear no resemblance.

Purdy stated the meeting wasn't an intimidation tactic. He characterized it as an informational meeting.

"The media had questions, and we thought the best way to get the information out there was to get the three groups together at once," Purdy said. " ... It wasn't meant to intimidate anyone in any way."

Scheeler said it was the decision of the township officials to spend money to have attorneys to review the OPRA requests.

Tilton, the former township clerk who was suspended in June and reached an agreement to resign in July, has filed two tort claim notices totaling $6 million with the township since her resignation, and one with against Atlantic County and the County Board of Elections for $3 million.

Scheeler has stressed there is no connection between himself and Tilton.

Bonanni said not every submission is sent through the solicitor's office, but it will send submissions through the office if there is any reference to litigation.

Township officials said requests submitted by Scheeler are worded too broadly, and although they said they are willing to work with requesters who file unclear OPRA requests, Scheeler said no one from the township has ever contacted him to clarify one of his requests.

On Thursday, both the township and Scheeler stated there have been some changes made due to findings made as a result of Scheeler's requests. Each pointed to the fact that the township manager now has his own private cell phone after Scheeler raised the issue of his usage of a township cell phone for private calls.

He also discovered Hodsdon never took the Oath of Office before beginning her job as township clerk. She has since taken the oath.

Officials said they didn’t want to stop the OPRA requests, either; they just want them to be more specific.

"They have the right to deny my requests if they were overly broad but they haven't because they are not. If there was any way they could deny me they would. Instead they are complaining in public that they are overly broad,” Scheeler said, referencing an appearance he made in front of council at a public meeting to discuss this issue last month. “They are bent on stopping me because I am airing their dirty laundry and if they had any possible way to deny me, they would.”

 

Diogenes December 23, 2011 at 07:56 PM
Perhaps Mr. Scheeler would get better OPRA services if he applied for the special self-aggrandizing yellow journalist rates. He sould quit wasting township employees' time in his narcissistic enterprise.
Diogenes December 23, 2011 at 08:32 PM
Regarding the township's statement of costs to process records, what they claim to pay the IT employee, police representative and attorney are beyond the bounds of reasonableness. And if the rationale is that these are negotiatiated fees, then negotiate them downward to a reasonable amount. Galloway township council does not seem to be able to manage governance and administration very well, and that is why they are constantly embroiled in turmoil and excessive payouts that ultimately we the taxpayers are stuck with.
Ron Schreiber December 23, 2011 at 09:28 PM
I think people are asking Questions that should be answered .it's about time .
Jim McElwee December 24, 2011 at 11:59 AM
I would be interested to know what Mr. Scheeler hopes to accomplish by bombarding the township with OPRA requests.Is it in the name of transparent government,or freedom of info. act. Or more likely, I suspect, is he working in concert with somebody, or somebody's lawyer that has a legal action pending against Galloway? Anyway you look at it, it is costing tax payer dollars and monopolizing township employees time,more wasted money.I hope Mr. Scheeler and the thinly vailed Brian Mc Coyle understand that!
smithvillian December 24, 2011 at 01:50 PM
Why would the mayor compare the number of OPRA requests between Galloway Twp. & Hamilton Twp. I mean, that's like comparing a town that is wrapped up with incredibly newsworthy (and tabloid worthy) scandalous antics with no regard for civil responsibility or leadership and then gracefully topped off with a splather of arrogance for all to digest and a town that doesnt have those issues....now that wouldn't be apples & oranges would it..?..
Jessie Rush December 24, 2011 at 02:07 PM
What fantasy world is the Mayor living in that he thinks he can get two cops for under $35,000 a year? $17.5 a year a piece? I don't think so. This is just a smear campaign and I really think you just bought some more torts and lawsuits or whatever they having been filing. The voters of Galloway will not have this next election. I can see the democrats taking over and thank goodness.
Jim McElwee December 24, 2011 at 03:53 PM
Thank you Mr.Scheeler for responding. I respect that you post your comments under your real name, unlike most of the posts which hide behind false identity's. I will read the link you provided with interest. As for Brian McCoyle, I admit I am not the best speller, is that all you got??? I do advocate open gov't, but I don't advocate a costly witch hunt to satisfy a person seeking revenge at the expense of the entire community.
BruceSefton December 24, 2011 at 04:06 PM
Mr Mayor, the OPRA requests are so high because of the conduct of you, your fellow council members, and employees. The Tilton case alone has generated a large amount of public interest into what's going on behind the doors at town hall. This is a sad and pathetic attempt to garner sympathy and shift blame to Ms Tilton and Mr Scheeler, who are just exercising their constitutional right.
Diogenes December 24, 2011 at 04:28 PM
I certainly respect and applaud Mr. Scheeler's right and duty to ask questions and to request documents in the furtherance of open government, I would hope that his efforts are not made solely to badger public officials, although sometimes they need some badgering to keep them on the right track. But my impression of our council is that they leave a lot to be desired in terms of effective administration. They did not block the legally questionable award of $60,000 from the township administration for two retiring police officials, so that these men wouldn't sue over the personnel process in appointing a new chief. How many fixed-income seniors or financially struggling families in Galloway will have to pay for this profligacy in their property taxes? Real people have to pay for the ineffictiveness and mistakes of council. Small town Jersey politics leave a bad taste in our mouths.
Diogenes December 24, 2011 at 04:41 PM
And furthermore, I don't respect the mentality or actions of someone who feels that because they were allegedly wronged can file 3 million dollar lawsuits on a monthly basis. The amount asked for in these lawsuits only hurts her credibility, and in the end, who would be penalized?? That's right, every taxpayer in Galloway. Should a fixed-income senior or an unemployed parent struggling to keep their family home be expected to foot the bill if Tilton shuld somehow win in this lawsuit lottery? Let's ask the State Department of Community Affairs to conduct an audit and review of this entire case.
BruceSefton December 24, 2011 at 05:25 PM
I agree with that. The state does need to come in and look under every rock
ccj December 26, 2011 at 03:33 AM
Reading this story line out of morbid curiosity I find myself compelled to ask one critical question that I am sure is on the mind of any sane people that may come across this board. Exactly what are they putting in the water down in Galloway? From reading these stories and the ones about Tilton suing for $3Million I think it might be justified to simply fence in the entire town and treat it as one big psycho ward. Imagine someone being reprimanded by her superior, then resigns, then takes back the resignation, then sues for $3 Million (an amount she's already sued another organization for...she must think 3,000,000 is her lucky number), then..... I mean you couldn't make this story up as no one would believe it. And then you come here and you see people commenting (often same person using different names, which is a whole another inane behavior) that the person could actually get $30 Milllion or some crazy figure....then a whole bunch of follow-ups...again many from the same person. It just boggles the mind. The state should condemn this town for its own good and start over.
ccj December 26, 2011 at 11:53 AM
Harry S, Stick to blogging or whatever it is exactly that you do. Stay away from analyzing the validity and potential valuations of lawsuits. You're clearly jumping in the deep end of the pool and from your comments it appears you cannot swim all that well.
Keep Galloway Green December 26, 2011 at 02:12 PM
$217 per hr to fill OPRA requests?....That's insane!....This govenment is so removed from common sense it should be disbanded!....I'm thinking Galloway should hold a lottery every 1 - 2 years to pick council people from ordinary residents. Pick 9 people instead of 7. That way there won't be politicians that stay in there year after year & run Galloway into the ground. They pick people from the general population to be on juries. I think that would work far better! And for God's sakes...get rid of all these high salary people. Blee is making a fortune off Galloway taxpayers. $40 hr for IT person?...$56hr for police rep?....It's all a huge ripoff of taxpayers. I say disband Galloway government & start over fresh. New council....New employees....It's all out of control!.......38 sheriff sales in todays Press.....Does anybody think that is abnormal?
Ron Schreiber December 26, 2011 at 02:26 PM
Where do people get these figures ? seems like every time I read this it go's up an up Employees are not the problem the people in charge are . would you get rid of a Army of trained solders because the Generals didn't do there job right .same thing with the Employees they are doing their job like they are told no different .
Ron Schreiber December 26, 2011 at 02:30 PM
people say Employees are making to much money every time ya turn around in your pocket they go .people forget employees had 42 or more days off with out pay .. people forget.right so blame the people that serve you the most .
Keep Galloway Green December 26, 2011 at 02:49 PM
Blee = $120 hr + IT person $39.94hr + Police Rep = $56.86 hr ========= $216.80....I'm .20 off....Sue Me!....lololololol
Keep Galloway Green December 26, 2011 at 02:57 PM
I'm thinking Galloway could hire 1 OPRA person for a lot less that 3 people. Apparently Blee sent out info he wasn't supposed to. Gee...keep him around!....lol....But actually....it's more than $217....Blee+ the IT Person + Police Rep + The Clerk....How much does she get an hour?....So it's actually 4 people working on Opra requests...Isn't it?
ccj December 26, 2011 at 03:20 PM
Harry, Any chance you could reference these Atlantic City Settlements you're referring to?
ccj December 26, 2011 at 03:32 PM
KGG.....Have you been able to decipher everything and at least get a sense as to who's who (i.e., the same people) on this blog? It seems to me that Harry Scheeler and Brian McCoyle are the same guy. Is that your take too? Is Scheeler a real person? He references his blog, but it's pretty much a slap up job, not professionally done, and it could easily be something someone would put up for virtually no money in attempt to keep up some ruse. Now BruceSefton is interesting. He/she has used some of the exact sentences used in earlier stories about Tilton and it seemed pretty much given that whatever alias was being used it was indeed Tilton herself. And of course theres Ron Screlber. He again could easily be Harry S too. Absolutely fascinating study in human behavior. Now funny thing is this story is all about overwhelming OPRA requests, specifically identifying Scheeler and Tilton and if you looked at another story regarding Tilton last week or maybe one prior, Harry S and Ron S just went on and on, over and over, about how everyone should just send OPRA request to the town clerk to get information about the case/situation. It almost seemed like they were begging everyone to help them with some crazy crusade. I'm guessing all of these slightly off characters come down to 1 or 2 people behind them all. Very funny stuff indeed.
Diogenes December 26, 2011 at 03:35 PM
Galloway residents will never get a better government unless we demand it. The most recent elections are an example. Candidates campaigned on personalities, not issues. They wouldn't even agree to debate the issues with each other in an open public forum. They preferred publicity events such as a controlled "meet and greet" to avoid open public debates over substantive issues. The ongoing drama with the council members, the former mayor and former clerk have all the elements of a so-called reality show. (Perhaps filming all of these shenanigans for tv could bring in some extra revenue for the township!) We always get the government we are willling to accept. Remember, all of these folks were voted into office by us, the residents. How they perform their duties should be monitored by the public. The public can give these officials respectful but firm and honest feedback in council meetings, by letters, telephone and e-mail. Remember, we're footing the bills for all of this
Diogenes December 26, 2011 at 03:45 PM
ccj--While most of the other people in this discussion are focusing on important local issues, you seem to attempt to weave some sort of conspiracy theory about the authorship of the comments. It would be good of you to keep your comments to the issues and avoid temindless speculation that has characterized your posts so far. And no, I really don't care about your response to this.
Keep Galloway Green December 26, 2011 at 05:47 PM
I'm very well aware people can use multiple made up names on the internet. That doesn't bother me...because it is a known fact people do it. If your gonna post there will be people who use multiple names. Some people will even ask questions & then answer themselves under a different name. Kind of amusing. What concerns me is a government that is out of control. I say pick a council just like they do jury duty. You can't run for jury duty...Why is that?....lol
Keep Galloway Green December 26, 2011 at 05:54 PM
Galloway should just have 1 person working on Opra requests...That person should put every request online so anybody can read it. What if 10 people want the same info?....Galloway has to waste $$$ & time 10X for 10 people?....Just put the records online for everyone in the public to see. Sounds like a lot better plan to me.
Ron Schreiber December 26, 2011 at 06:49 PM
I am a real person .thank you for your interest.I have been called a lot of things but never someone else ...lol
ccj December 26, 2011 at 09:13 PM
Ron Schrdiber...fair enough. Someone else called me out on this thread about my being more about about conspiracy theories than adding value added commentary and in retrospect they're right. My bad. I might not agree with your comments or views but respec your right to have them and share them. I guess I just got.caught up on my feeling that this is such a ridiculous situation but I shouldn't expect everyone to share my perspective and I need to be more open to the fact that it's simply my view and not necessarily fact.
Ron Schreiber December 26, 2011 at 10:48 PM
I understand this .and you are right it is a Ridicous Situation .
Diogenes December 27, 2011 at 05:55 AM
ccj-Yes, agreed, we must keep relentless focus on the issues if we want to effect real change in the way our township government operates!

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