OPRA complaint targets Palisades Park (2024)

Katie Sobko|NorthJersey

PALISADES PARK – A Sussex County resident with a history of open public records activism has set his sights on Palisades Park.

Jesse Wolosky of Sparta filed a complaint with Superior Court in Bergen County, naming the borough as well as clerk Gina Kim and Borough Administrator David Lorenzo, in an effort to receive unredacted copies of previously requested documents.

Wolosky alleges that when he received the information he requested from the borough,which focused on reimbursem*nt requests made by Lorenzo, the redactions were made by Lorenzo himself, and not all are valid.

As the borough administrator, Lorenzo can file for reimbursem*nt for litigation and other professional and personal expenses, as long ashe is a party or witness and the case relates to his role in the borough.

Tammori Petty, the director of communications for the state’s Department of Community Affairs, explained by email that the Open Public Records Act says that “government records shall be readily accessible for inspection, copying, or examination .... with certain exceptions. ..." A government record is defined as a record "made, maintained or kept on file ... or that has been received in the course of ... official business."

Anyone can make a request, and the custodian of records is required to respond by fulfilling, denying or asking for an extension within seven days. They must also prove and inform requestors of the legal basis for any denial.

Town news: Palisades Park mayor James Rotundo: Challenger Chris Chung is dividing the town

Other OPRA news: Englewood Cliffs councilwoman prevails in OPRA lawsuit against borough

Wolosky started filing record requests in the borough in August 2017 because a local resident asked him for help.

“Taxpayers in Palisades Park reached out to me because they don’t know how to file an OPRA or don’t know how to dig into things,” Wolosky said. “My initial request was for a copy of the year-end earnings for each employee for 2016. I had heard about nepotism and figured it would be good to start there and see who was getting paid.”

This isn’t Wolosky’s first experience with record requests. He has filed complaints in other communities, and won legal cases in Roxbury Township and in Sussex County.

Wolosky sent several more requests over the course of a few months until he started looking into the reimbursem*nts filed by borough employees and came across something that he thought stood out.

Wolosky said Lorenzo'sreimbursem*nts for the last three years were “very aggressive.”

An OPRA request turned up that Lorenzo received a check for $67,783.50 from the borough on December 20, 2017, for “reimbursem*nt for legal fees.” The records listed expenses dating from February 2013 to June 2017 and contained twenty line items. Wolosky shared the paperwork with NorthJersey.com.

“It just looked very suspicious,” Wolosky said. His next request asked for more specific information.He received a document with redacted records of Lorenzo’s reimbursem*nt requests, he said.

A typical redaction can conceal any type of information a custodian believes to be exempt from disclosure. Some examples are personal identifiers such as Social Security numbers and attorney-client privileged information, Petty said.

In questioning the redactions, Wolosky said he found out that the some of the original redactions were made by Lorenzo before the records were submitted to the borough’s finance department.

Petty said that's not necessarily unlawful. While OPRA does give a custodian the responsibility of redacting government records, some agencies may choose to use personnel familiar with the situation to perform the redactions. For instance, a custodian unfamiliar with police reports may seek assistance from police personnel, Petty said.

Wolosky alleges that much of the redacted information that supported the $67,783.50 paid to Lorenzo are public records and wants a judge to order the borough to release the unredacted copies.

“I’ve submitted the complaint so now Palisades Park needs to answer it,” Wolosky said. “They have time to replay so that’s what is happening now. Then it goes to court and the judge makes a decision on if the requests should be granted or not.”

When reached by phoneThursday, Lorenzo said referred all comments to borough attorney John Schettino, before noting that he personally hasn’t "really looked at it and to be honest I really don’t care about it."

Schettino said that the OPRA was fulfilled but there was “some confusion on the borough’s part about what was redacted.”

“Our intention is to review the document again and instead of redact, essentially unredact and resend the document,” Schettino said. “We think that should resolve this without any mediation or court appearances.”

OPRA complaint targets Palisades Park (2024)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Twana Towne Ret

Last Updated:

Views: 5513

Rating: 4.3 / 5 (64 voted)

Reviews: 95% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Twana Towne Ret

Birthday: 1994-03-19

Address: Apt. 990 97439 Corwin Motorway, Port Eliseoburgh, NM 99144-2618

Phone: +5958753152963

Job: National Specialist

Hobby: Kayaking, Photography, Skydiving, Embroidery, Leather crafting, Orienteering, Cooking

Introduction: My name is Twana Towne Ret, I am a famous, talented, joyous, perfect, powerful, inquisitive, lovely person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.