EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — Township officials have not released closed-session minutes, covering topics as mundane as selecting an employee of the year to as serious as a lawsuit’s allegation of organized cheating on a police test, in at least 18 months.
The records have not been released despite the fact that officials have approved all of the minutes from their closed-session meetings.
The township denied an Open Public Records Act request filed by The Press of Atlantic City this week for copies of closed-session meeting minutes from 2008 and 2009. The response said the minutes “have not been released to the public.”
Among the minutes officials refused to release are those of a May 4 meeting at which the Township Committee agreed to a $650,000 settlement of a civil lawsuit filed by former police Officer Christopher Mozitis, who alleged four officers cheated on a promotional exam. All of the lawsuit charges, including allegations of ongoing harassment by several officers, were dropped as a result of the settlement.
Other unreleased minutes would cover the $360,000 settlement the township agreed to within the past month with Mary Moore, Kelley Taylor and Diane Loglisci, three of five former female police dispatchers who sued the Police Department in March 2007 for alleged sexual discrimination and workplace harassment.
Last fall, the township also agreed to a $32,500 settlement in a 2003 civil lawsuit filed by Pierre Reid, a former township resident and Pleasantville police officer who alleged several officers — including Mozitis — harassed him. The lawsuit charges in those cases were also dropped as a stipulation of the settlement.
The amount of the settlements with the dispatchers and Reid were mentioned in a news release and township records provided this week. Most of the settlement payments would be covered by the township’s insurance provider.
Mayor James “Sonny” McCullough said in a phone interview Friday that he was unaware the closed-session minutes were not publicly available. He added that minutes about issues that were finalized would be released Wednesday night, when the Township Committee holds its next meeting.
“As far as my knowledge, once it’s approved it should be available to the public,” McCullough said.
The mayor added that he did not have a good answer why the minutes were withheld because the township workers who would know that information were not in the office.
The Township Committee gathered in closed session for legal and personnel reasons 18 times in 2008 and nine times so far in 2009, according to township records. The topics officials discussed ranged from serious issues, such as lawsuits against the township and union negotiations, to regular workplace decisions, such as hiring and promoting workers and picking the 2008 employee of the year.
Before each closed-session meeting, township officials announce what topics will be discussed. Some subjects come with a time frame, such as six months, one year or two years. Business Administrator Peter Miller said the time frame is an estimate of how long it would take to complete the matter.
Miller said in a phone interview Friday that closed-session minutes are released after all the topics discussed are completed. He added that the township’s procedure follows state laws and that there have been minutes going back to 2006 and 2007 that have not been released because of ongoing litigation.
The state Government Records Council ruled that in general, meeting minutes are exempt from disclosure until the governing body approves them, according to Chris Donnelly, a spokesman for the state Department of Community Affairs. The Government Records Council has no authority over the length of time it takes for the minutes to be approved, Donnelly wrote in an e-mail.
However, Nomi Lowy, general counsel for the New Jersey Press Association, wrote in an e-mail that the Open Public Records Act states meeting minutes “shall be promptly available to the public.”
Lowy said a 1986 state Superior Court case interpreted “promptly” to be two weeks after any regular meeting. If the board holds successive meetings about the same subject within two weeks of each other, the earlier minutes should be available in advance of the next meeting, Lowy said.
An open-records lawsuit is pending against Egg Harbor Township.
John Paff, a Somerset resident, sued the township and 16 other Atlantic County communities in August after he was denied copies of the first two executive-session meeting minutes of 2008.
Paff, who also is involved in the New Jersey Libertarian Party’s Open Government Advocacy Project, said he settled with nine municipalities. The lawsuit is scheduled to go to trial in June before Atlantic County Superior Court Judge Steven Perskie.