Montclair, NJ – Montclair Mayor Sean Spiller made his way into South Jersey homes this week, with a mailer from the organization he leads “Protecting Our Democracy.” InsiderNJ, who reported on the mailer, sees it as more evidence of Spiller’s plans to run for governor of New Jersey.

“Protecting our Democracy is dedicated to fighting back against extremist attempts to subvert our basic rights, personal freedoms and institutions. In light of the dangerous rhetoric coming from politicians both here in New Jersey and nationally, the work of safeguarding our democracy has never been more important. Those of us who value self-governance are coming together to ensure our rights are protected,” said Spiller.

Locally, Montclair residents are looking to Spiller, as well as other members of the Township Council, to protect their democracy, by filling long-neglected Open Public Records Act (OPRA) requests.

Baristanet is in receipt of emails from Montclair residents who are experiencing repeated OPRA delays.

Deirdre Birmingham, in an email to the mayor, council members as well as state officials, said she has been waiting nearly two months for a simple OPRA request.

On November 15, Deputy Town Clerk Bridget Barney emailed Birmingham stating that her request “requires additional time to fulfill due to staff shortage” and “requires an extension of time until December 19, 2022.”

Today Birmingham received an email that an extension has been requested for her October 28th OPRA request until January 20, 2023.

“I assume on January 20th, the town will request another extension until February 20th,” said Birmingham. “This is absolutely unacceptable. The Montclair/Glen Ridge fire contract can not be signed when critical details are being withheld from the public. I am so disappointed in the leadership of Montclair. Residents deserve better than this. What are you hiding?”

Mary Birmingham is also waiting on a request dated October 24, where the Township request for an extension has since passed.

Under OPRA, the custodian of a government record must respond to request “as soon as possible,” but requesters must receive a response within seven business days after the custodian receives a complete request.

In New Jersey, a public official, officer, employee, or custodian who knowingly and willfully violates OPRA and is found to have unreasonably denied access under the totality of the circumstances shall be subject to a civil penalty of $1,000 for an initial violation, $2,500 for a second violation, and $5,000 for a third violation.

The OPRA delays come weeks after Montclair residents have expressed frustration with the Township government at council meetings, especially at a contentious October meeting, where residents carried signs calling for transparency as well as for Spiller to resign.

Baristanet reached out to Mayor Spiller and Acting Township Manager Brian Scantlebury as well Deputy Clerk Barney, who were all copied on emails from Birmingham, for an explanation for the continued OPRA delays.

Councilor at Large Peter Yacobellis, who was also copied on the emails, replied to Birmingham, Scantlebury, and representatives from the clerk’s office and township attorneys, stating the following:

Madame Clerk, would you please be prepared to discuss this matter at tonight’s Council Meeting? I’d like to understand the delay. Might information be turned over incrementally if it’s not all ready?

Law Department, might you be able to support the Clerk with additional resources if possible and helpful?

I feel strongly we should not just meet, but exceed constituent expectations when it comes to releasing information the public is entitled to review and try to get things out before deadlines.

Let’s have an internal discussion about staffing levels other options to ensure we’re responding promptly and thoroughly to OPRA requests going forward.

Scantlebury, in an email to Baristanet late Tuesday afternoon, wrote: “As I have just been made aware of the situation this afternoon I need to speak with staff to get further details before responding.”

Eileen Birmingham emailed the Township council members on November 7 regarding the OPRA delays and also notified acting town attorney Paul Burr. She mentioned the delay in fulfilling OPRA requests during public comment at this November 14 council meeting where Scantlebury was in attendance.

“Transparency fuels democracy. Getting the documents that show what elected officials and public employees are doing is the first step in holding government accountable,” said Acting State Comptroller Kevin Walsh in a July 2022 report on OPRA disputes that found the majority of complaints involve access to local government records.

17 replies on “Transparency Now: Montclair Township Delays OPRA Requests”

  1. At least there’s a process!

    I’m still trying to figure out how to appeal being banned from Secret Montclair for daring to answer a question with an opinion differing from the group and then getting insulted and banned.

  2. “Those of us who value self-governance are coming together to ensure our rights are protected,” said Spiller.

    I think I know who stole my copy of “Speechwriting 4 Dummies.”

    Would “Those of us” perhaps be those of us who just voted in a democratic election? Would that be “self-governance”? Is “coming together” something we do in a polling booth, or is it in done in media buys or on social media sites or NJEA executive sessions where decisions are made on where teacher’s dues are spent?

    Would “Those of us” who are being warned our rights are about to be ripped from our bosoms be the same people who were recently informed that their Right of Assembly had been reconstituted as the right to assemble on the second floor of 205 Claremont into smaller spaces at exactly the moment more people were clamoring for greater access to the democratic “self-governance” process that a certain Montclair Mayor evokes in efforts to fill the coffers of the Protecting Our Democracy fundraising racket? Would the dolt who suggested such a thing be our democratically elected mayor who now wishes to impose such anti-democratic but lofty sounding ideas on an entire state? Could plans for a wall around Drumthwacket already be in the works?

    Would whatever loathsome toothpaste salesman that banged out that pabulum please stand up? Even a statement-by-committee can’t match the bovine-like insipidness of Spiller’s latest offering.

    But when the local government he “oversees” is ignoring the most fundamental task it is required to do — respond to the needs and demands of its citizenry — it is a failure. The “consent of the governed” actually MEANS THE CONSENT OF THE GOVERNED.

    So who are the “Those of us” specifically he has in mind? The ones standing in line at the OPRA window? The Edgemont Park Bridge Hysterical Acting Troupe and Travelling Band? The “We’re Waiting for You to Get the Governorship So We Can Get the Plum State Jobs You Promised” crowd?

    It’s overwrought to invoke Orwell in every conversation about politics these days, so let’s go with Harold Hill in The Music Man, a shameless con artist whose only talent is playing to the vanities of simple but decent people. We’re not conflating Montclair with River City, but we too bought what Spiller was selling, and now he’s downstate selling it again.

    It’s the perfect distillation of ambition and hucksterism as Sean Spiller goes from town to town like Harold Hill before him, and in our rendition Montclair gets to play the role of Gary, Indiana but without a memorable song. And Sean Spiller from Montclair, New Jersey in the end tells every Marian in the state how in love he is. Oh how they will swoon. And here at home another clerk will shut the teller window angrily on that obnoxious “citizen” asking where in the heck her OPRA request stands.

    “Those of us.” Before Sean Spiller sells his medicinal cure-all snake oil to another enamored naif, he might want to tell us specifically who he has in mind.

    Thank you, Liz George, for reporting on this.

  3. I agree with Moose 100%. While I can’t write as well as he does, I will add that I don’t understand why rank-and-file teachers are bankrolling this dude. The law has changed circa 2018 (Supreme Court decision in Janus v. AFSCME) so now teachers can actually opt out of paying dues without any adverse employment consequences. Spiller doesn’t seem to come from wealth and he doesn’t seem to have the ability (or record) of generating it himself outside of the teachers’ union setting. That means that without union dues and the 200,000 NJEA bodies Sean Spiller would continue to be a 7-grade schoolteacher in Wayne with zero ability to impose his ‘progressive values’ on Montclair taxpayer.

    Not to be a stickler, but why does he keep using plural while repeating himself ad nauseam about “our shared values”? He has ONE value: his own political ascent. As a Montclair resident, I do not share that ‘value’ at all. That said, I do hope that he soon ‘graduates’ to some state office and leaves Montclair to someone who has interest in – and record of – effective governance.

    As far as OPRA violations, I try to be mindful and not see evil where there’s mere incompetence. That said, the state agency that oversees OPRA says that there’s no such thing as “automatic extension” routinely exercised by Montclair’s clerk’s office. Has anyone EVER gotten ANYTHING from them within the statutory 7 days? Ask for a single page and they ask for extension citing being understaffed or some other BS. Please. How many people does a muni-clerk need to email a single page? From the court filing of former deputy clerk Juliet Lee one can clearly read that our current township clerk is Stafford’s minion with zero prior clerkship experience. It seems like she was inserted into this important position to facilitate maneuvering of the agenda and discouraging the public from asking for records that are better kept under the rug. Stafford was sure good for that and Spiller is no different. I hope Spiller moves on to ‘better things’ soon and takes his clerk with him.

  4. I had pleasant, timely experiences & follow-ups with my narrow & specific Montclair and Glen Ridge OPRA requests. Thank you Mr Dineros & Ms Dominguez of Montclair and Ms. Ventola & Lt. Faranda of Glen Ridge.

  5. I did follow with interest the conversation about 8,000 pages the IT Dept search on the request from 1 requestor…and that the IT department printed hardcopies. All 8,000 pages worth. OK, its government, I get it. But, this government spends a tidy sum across multiple cost centers for Adobe Reader document mgmt tools. For the Law Dept who must review the 8,000 pgs, they have the Adobe Redact tool. The whole exercise could have been done digitally on a basic tablet. But, this is government, so instead we added another headcount and a box of black Sharpies.

  6. Glad to hear someone had a positive experience with the clerk’s office. Perhaps it’s a result of numerous readers venting on this forum about rampant OPRA delays. Or perhaps Frank Rubacky is so special that he gets priority treatment. I’m jealous. Hey Frank, can I email you my OPRA requests so you can submit them for me? Perhaps that way I will get the docs I need before April 2023. I’m quite serious.

    Anyway, the current confusion about functions of particular township departments/positions is comical (and sometimes alarming). Apparently, these days we have IT Department handling PR, City Planner handling CDBG grants, Law Department handling purely clerical functions (doc redactions), Chief FINANCIAL Officer getting kicked out of FINANCE Committee and precluded from weighing in on deals that involve FINANCES (such as Glen Ridge fire agreement), and an Education Committee deliberating on grants and capital projects. Can someone please explain to me what grants and capital projects have to do with education?? Why don’t we have Township Custodian handle payroll? Sheesh!

    To pause on the Law Dept. for a moment, on the second thought, perhaps it makes sense to give purely clerical tasks to Mr. Burr as he appears unable to handle the legal aspect of municipal governance. Just about everything that could have been done wrong at the last council meeting, was done wrong! I wouldn’t call myself an expert on laws/rules/regs concerning local government but the more I learn, the more hair I pull out of my head. At this rate, I will soon ask the town to put a wig for me in their next year’s budget. I was shocked by the degree of Mr. Burr’s ignorance/incompetence last Tuesday. This guy is giving the council completely incorrect information and they sit there like lumps of flesh and take his nonsense as gospel!

    I can’t help but see some humor here. They hire this guy with zero municipal experience and he is slowly digging a mass grave for them. Not intentionally, I’m sure – he simply does not have relevant knowledge/experience to handle legal aspect of local governance. According to his own website, he has NEVER worked as town attorney before! In other words, he is cutting his teeth on Montclair. Now, Montclair is a complex town with a lot of moving parts. This council was suicidal to hire – and reappoint – a complete amateur as their lawyer. I wouldn’t be surprised if one day it came out he were someone’s ‘friend’. My bet would be Hurlock.

  7. Moose:

    “I think I know who stole my copy of Speechwriting 4 Dummies.” – hahahaha! Having focused on substance earlier, I totally missed the humor of this sentence. It’s so true though. He rambles on and on and it’s all pablum and bromides. The guy is no Cicero, for sure.

    Moose is a bit of a Cicero I think. 🙂

  8. Special? No , but confirm w/ MM or e.d. Priority treatment…from Glen Ridge? Unlikely.

    It’s simply karma.

  9. Frank…it’s getting time for you to ask yourself really why you need to be such an oppositional nay sayer here — almost all the time.

    In this thread….from council meetings…facebook all over…. here… no doubt know or hear just how many people have complained that the Clerk is holding back reasonable OPHRA requests that could potentially embarrass the administration and Council….using stalling and bureaucratic obstafication techniques. Your reaction instead….is you’ve had “no issue with your attempt. It’s all good, even if they are a screw up.” Yet, clearly that’s not the case for others politically. Which you’re dismissing.

    On land use…if it’s not some issue of minutia you are directly concerned with…you then write something contradicting the POVs the very people who normally would support you on most things…and instead attack or criticize their big picture view. Why?

    Even when I’ve tried to include you on multiple thread sends to the Council to help make a point …on something which you may or may not be that concerned with but which I wanted you to know of and clearly, it’s of concern to others….you don’t write me back privately and say “no Martin…don’t include me, I’m not interested in being on your threads….or “Martin, you’re off base on this because of x and y?” You do not. Instead, you copy everyone on the thread and tell me to remove you because I’m just off, embarrass me and end up undermining my political intent. Which is really not in opposition to what you believe but maybe not the particulars exactly of your concerns. So why?

    The effect of all this that people who could use and actually need your information help and would want you to speak out on something in support or against, can’t rely that you won’t go off the reservation on them and shoot down your own argument — whether for or against….

    In other words…many of your reactions here appear not really over policy and political considerations…but as some kind of personal need, or psychological gratification.

    We need your help. You’ve got great information and great analytical skills. So, would you please think about this a bit why you’re actually always opposing and dismissing — what ever the point — and try and stop it. Actually play ball with the other kids on the playground a bit more….. Please?

  10. Well, tell your posse to stop acting so dumb and lazy. This is one reason why I do it. All the other reasons are just because of an assortment of my character flaws

  11. Another reason? I adjusted my priorities as suggested by some community leaders back in 2018. So, I now see the light and I am in favor of this Redevelopment Plan overall…meaning heights, massing, uses. Of course there are stupid & thoughtless mistakes, but easily fixed. My big concern is we will get screwed 3x over on the PILOT. But, the PILOT is part of the Financial Agreement, not the Redevelopment Plan. That is a major reason why everyone is so amazingly dumb. They will argue for traffic and public safety studies, but will not have absolutely one clue (I adore their blank looks) nor a single intelligent question about the finances. Seriously, how stupid are we?

    Here is a free one. This will be the first Redevelopment Plan with not only 20% AH, but an additional 10% Workforce Housing. The NAACP will never point out that 80% of all this housing has to be either 2 or 3 bedroom units. They have their own selfish agenda. The total 2 & 3 BR subsidized housing units alone will be 90.

    Now Janice & Bob will tell us we can expect a total of 23 school-age children residing in the THREE HUNDRED SEVENTY FIVE units. OK, deduct the 56 “not a hotel” dwelling units. 23 kids across 319 dwelling units. Where I suspect there will be some market rate 2 & 3 BR units in addition to the 90 affordable housing 2 & 3 BR units.

    Now pick a number you thinks reflects a better estimate for the number of school age children and multiple by $23,000. $23,000 is the projected MPSD cost/student in 2027 when this project is full.

    I’m going to pick 100 school age children in residence. Less Janice’s & Bob’s 23, times $23K per, and I get $1.7MM additional school costs. I’m OK with this because my priority is to eliminate the food desert…at any cost. And, OK, I wanted to point out the lazy factor going on here.

  12. Frank, I anticipated 100-120 kids. Way more than the 6% BS number Janice is estimating. That’s based on the Valley and Bloom actual results where we had 26 kids from that development which has 20 overall affordable units I believe.

    Now, it could be different here because there is an ordinance which is supposed to require all the affordable units to go to Montclair residents. However, the Plan does not fully mandate that. The language is still too loose on that front. Nonetheless, your 23k per kid calculation sounds about right. Which means…if this development overall does not produce at least like $3.5 million in total tax revenues..whether PILOT, or taxes (which it will not generate most likely)….then why do it? Unless, the language is 100% locked — no one other than an existing Montclair resident gets the affordable units meaning the likelihood of new kids not here already coming into the school system and adding to revenue deficits — is much lower.

    Where I part ways with you is that a supermarket is the starting point for anything to be built there. A supermarket and retail surround, while protecting the existing landmark site. Anything else is open for consideration and review, which means the Council is the continued screw-up here because they could have defined the scope and economics of the site from the very start recognizing the above fiscal situation. And set a redevelopment plan accordingly. Not play with the developer and become a lap dog bringing in consultants to sell his plan.

    Which actually has some good site design elements. Yet, buildings too big, too tall and too bulky for overall takeaway, both for the neighborhood and the overall township. Turning us more into downtown Stamford. Not maintaining our still regional Alexandria/Red Bank visitor and life-style appeals. Which is one of the major economic selling reasons why people want to come here to our commercial areas to spend money. Set up businesses and move to live here. Why must we shoot ourselves in the foot with something too big. Just scale it back.

  13. PS Frank….you know “they” are not my posse. Whether you’re speaking of the Council, or those within the community who show knee-jerk support for this Plan. Who don’t care about any impacts.

    This Council is completely clueless of course and the idea that they would first come to the table knowing the range of fiscal parameters potentially being generated before agreeing to the Plan — is beyond them. They did not consult with the Assessor for a general square footage assessment. They did not talk to the CFO on the outs, and have not engage outside fiscal guru Beneke — until two or three weeks ago.

    On the Community side…there are those who just hear the whispered words “affordable housing”…and they want to just roll-over and sign anything… thought as to ancillary impacts, who really pays for multi-unit housing overall and what kind of housing is being generated, at what price-points which then determines tax revenues. As if consideration of fiscal reality, taxes, budgets and revenue and those impacts etc. are somehow racist in and of themselves. Shutting down any fiscal review considerations.

  14. Martin,

    The supermarket USE was the basis for my statement.

    FYI, the Plan draft offers the same partial protections to the Train Station (aka Waiting Room) Bldg. as the PB’s existing site plan approval and it hasn’t changed in this Council’s Redevelopment Plan.

    The Planning Board should catch this conflict: the East Parcel is in the C-1’s Community Zone overlay. This overlay permits different ground floor uses then the C-1 Center because we decided these uses were inherently part of the development & feel of this area.

    I think Building C (corner of Blmfld & Grove) is the integral building to the Form Based Code (FBC) site design. It is a thoughtfully defined in its anchor role to its parcel and connecting the streetscape across Grove/Bldg E. A visually effective combination of stories(5), unique set/step-backs, and allows extra height(75′) to manipulate the street-level perspective.

    The most obvious major flaw is the Bloomfield frontage. Constructed wetlands as the primary streetscape feature in a C-1? I am assuming this is an architectural beard to cover the same auto accessory use approved in the last site plan. The good news is this is a draft and significant changes are certain.

  15. F. Rubacky:

    “Assortment of character flaws”, hahaha! This was funny and kinda disarming. Tangentially, if someone told me a year ago that I would be reading/posting comments on a poli-blog, I’d have laughed. A year ago I didn’t even know what Faulkner Act was and that we had it here in Montclair. (Judge me all you want.) But life is strange and unpredictable; now I read about stuff I used to consider mind-numbingly boring, I take it seriously, and – I guess – sometimes I find relief in venting my frustration by writing caustic comments.

  16. Martin,
    My favorite piece of humorous minutia is the plan’s permitted freestanding supermarket sign at the corner of Bloomfield & Grove. It is the‘Summit Medical Bldg on the Wellmont Arts Plaza @ Seymour Arts District‘ circulation issue all over again.

    The pedestrian-level signage informs a driver there is a supermarket here. While traversing this most complex intersection. A sign that a food oasis lays behind the rain garden. Like Seymour, you have to fight the very tempting option right in front of you because it will cost you. For those that realize their mistake and enter the Main Plaza’s grand driveway, salvation lies beyond because only right turns are permitted onto
    S Fullerton, sorry, Lackawanna Plaza (the street).

Comments are closed.