A statement I made in a recent letter to the Editor really seems to have touched a nerve with my fellow Township Committee member Sam Tropello. Mr. Tropello ran for office calling for increased transparency in Township government; apparently transparency isn’t all it’s cracked up to be when it results in exposure of his alarming musings to the light of day.
Mr. Tropello, who is not a member of the Township’s COAH subcommittee, prepared a completely unsolicited spreadsheet which he asked to be distributed to the Township Committee. The spreadsheet, captioned “COAH Comparison”, purported to show the difference in cost to the Township if what he described as an “Independent Builder” built 3,000 units including 600 theoretical COAH units vs. what he described as a “Township Builder” building 600 theoretical COAH units. The content of the spreadsheet was NOT a topic of discussion during Executive Session, nor could it have been, as this sort of discussion does not fall within one of the exceptions to the Open Public Meetings Act.
The New Jersey Open Public Meetings Act (otherwise known as the “Sunshine Law”) confirms the right of the public to be present at all meetings of public bodies, and to witness in full detail all phases of the deliberation, policy formulation, and decision making of public bodies. There are limited yet important exceptions for matters that can be discussed in private or Executive Session, where the public is excluded. These things include personnel matters, pending or threatened litigation, negotiation of Collective Bargaining Agreements, negotiations to purchase or lease real property, and tactics to protect the safety of the public, among others. The Committee adopted an Executive Session Resolution for the meeting in question, which included “Council on Affordable Housing/Pending Litigation”, and this topic was properly discussed. Mr. Tropello’s spreadsheet, which in no way concerns or reflects “Readington’s COAH litigation strategy” simply reflects his own spontaneously created, unsolicited “analysis”, which was not discussed.
After reading the letter to the Editor in which I referenced Mr. Tropello’s spreadsheet, a member of the public asked me for a copy. I emailed Mr. Tropello to ask if I could provide a copy. He responded, “Liz, No, spreadsheets were for discussion with Township Committee members only. There (sic) purpose was to illustrate some of the many variables needed to make a risk analysis regarding the options available to satisfy COAH units. The values used were not vetted and therefore outcomes are of no value but to demonstrate how a risk analysis is done.” That’s where this would have ended but for Mr. Tropello’s pursuit of the matter.
Per his request, I have not made Mr. Tropello’s spreadsheet public; not because its content was a topic of discussion in Executive Session (it wasn’t), and not because it has anything to do with “Readington’s COAH litigation strategy” (it doesn’t), but because it is his work product and he asked that it not be shared with the public. Anyone wishing to see Mr. Tropello’s spreadsheet or hear his thoughts on the best way to address the Township’s affordable housing obligations going forward should contact him. Similarly, anyone wishing to hear my thoughts or share their thoughts on the same topic is more than welcome to contact me.
I believe the public’s interest is served by compliance with the letter and the spirit of the Open Public Meetings Act; both in terms of what should be discussed publicly, and what should be discussed confidentially. I hope that we can all move forward to work together to serve Readington with this important balance in mind. Liz Duffy