A West Deptford resident has filed suit against the township committee in Superior Court over closed-session tax settlement discussions about Eagle Point, including a January closed-session meeting with Sunoco officials, that allegedly violated the state Sunshine Law, in a bid to prevent the $15 million settlement from advancing.
Gary Kuehnapfel filed the suit Tuesday via his attorney, John W. Trimble Jr., of Turnersville-based Trimble & Armano, alleging the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) violations, which were first reported on Patch earlier the same day.
“I am fed up with the public's business being conducted behind closed doors,” Kuehnapfel said in a release from his attorney's office. “The tax appeal litigation is too important to West Deptford's taxpayers to be settled without transparency to the public.”
Kuehnapfel's suit seeks to void the settlement with Sunoco and prohibit any further action by the township committee, as well as prevent the state's Local Finance Board from further action on the settlement. It also asks for a court-appointed monitor to prevent further OPMA violations.
The violations were first brought to light by former Mayor Len Daws, who brought them up during a recent public session of the committee.
Minutes from that January meeting, though redacted, show three Sunoco representatives, including two direct employees of the corporation, had discussions with the township committee during the closed session.
Attorney Jeff Gordon, of Archer & Greiner, and two employees from Sunoco’s tax divison—Rich Booker, director of tax controversy and state tax planning and Robert Dietz, vice-president of tax—were involved in the closed-session portion of the meeting, which, according to the minutes, involved both an overview of each side’s position and a back-and-forth question-and-answer session.
Walter Luers, an attorney with the New Jersey Foundation for Open Government, agreed with Daws about the committee pushing the boundaries of a closed session by bringing in Sunoco officials.
“This is a blatant, open and obvious violation of the Open Public Meetings Act,” Luers told Daws in an email.
West Deptford officials said earlier they believed they were working within the bounds of the state Sunshine Law during the closed session.
Check back with Patch for more on this story as it develops.