Kuehnapfel Sues Again, Alleges More OPMA Violations by Republicans
The suit alleges at least one secret meeting held by the three Republicans prior to the Jan. 5 reorganization.
A township resident who previously won a suit against the township committee over alleged violations of the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) has surfaced again, this time filing a suit against the Republican township committee members over alleged secret meetings with prospective township professionals at the end of 2011, claiming they once again violated OPMA.
Gary Kuehnapfel, who won his suit in April regarding the Eagle Point settlements, filed another Tuesday, this time claiming the three Republicans violated the law by conducting interviews as a quorum, citing as proof a Dec. 23, 2011, letter to Traveler's Insurance, as well as a meeting with at least one township professional in the lead-up to committeeman Sam Cianfarini and Mayor Ray Chintall taking office.
The letter to Traveler's, which was on official municipal letterhead and signed by all three Republicans, referenced various policy numbers and advised the insurance company there would be a switch in brokers, from Democrat-appointed Martin Company to Anderson Jackson Metts, effective the day Chintall and Cianfarini were to be sworn in at the beginning of 2012, which would take place about two weeks after the date of the letter.
The Dec. 28, 2011, meeting, which court documents say involved Cianfarini, Chintall and current Deputy Mayor Sean Kilpatrick, as well as current solicitor Anthony Ogozalek Jr. and Brandon Umba, the district field representative for Rep. John Runyan, who has also served in an unofficial capacity as a consultant to the West Deptford Republicans, serves as supporting evidence, the suit indicates.
In one exhibit filed with the suit, former township engineer Ed Steck, a vice president of T&M Associates who served as township engineer under the former Democratic administration, certified he and T&M Senior Vice President Jim Oris met with the group at Capehart Scatchard's law offices in Mt. Laurel, where they discussed Steck and the firm's qualifications and experience. Steck indicated the two committeemen-elect and Kilpatrick all participated in the process, and Umba added in a question about billing rates, with the entire interview taking about 45 minutes.
In his filing with the court, Kuehnapfel's Democratically connected attorney, John W. Trimble Jr., argued the presence of the three Republicans at the interviews, despite the fact that two of them hadn't yet been sworn in, represented a quorum, and thus a violation of OPMA.
Trimble cited a similar case which was decided against the city of Brigantine, where in 1990, newly-elected but unsworn members of that city's government held meetings to discuss appointments, and issued a letter to the municipal judge to tell him he wouldn't be reappointed.
Given the circumstances, Trimble argued the same standard applied to the West Deptford Republicans, accusing them of “blatant” violations of the law.
“Ultimately, the defendants made the decision to appoint AJM Insurance Management, Inc. as the insurance broker,” Trimble wrote. “Therefore, the defendants violated the Open Public Meetings Act.”
Chintall declined to comment on the suit, a copy of which reached him late Tuesday.
“Our solicitor's still reviewing it,” he said.
Unlike the first suit filed by Kuehnapfel over the Eagle Point settlements, which eventually resulted in the settlements being voided and forced the committee to publicly disclose the details of those deals, Democrats Denice DiCarlo and Donna Szymborski weren't named as defendants, given they didn't participate in the alleged secret meetings.
The suit also alleges the township violated the Open Public Records Act by failing to fully disclose correspondence from Chintall and Cianfarini regarding township business, including the Dec. 23 letter to Traveler's. While the township did release numerous emails from the two committeemen-elect, the headers on the copy of the letter from Traveler's included in the suit indicates Trimble and Kuehnapfel got their copy from the Martin Company.
Kuehnapfel, who makes $12,252 as a part-time Gloucester County College employee and also is listed as the owner of a computer services company, has remained out of the spotlight during both suits, not attending the court hearing for his previous suit and generally leaving communication to his attorney's office.
Democratic Party leaders have disavowed any connection with Kuehnapfel, who has nonetheless been able to get Trimble's services, as well as the cooperation of Democrat-appointed former township professionals.