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Suit Over $15 Million West Deptford-Sunoco Settlement Seeks Transparency

Attorney John W. Trimble Jr. said West Deptford's township committee mishandled the settlement process in not disclosing the terms of the deal at its approval.

A lawsuit filed by a West Deptford resident that could slam the brakes on a $15 million settlement over the property with Sunoco alleges a series of violations of the Open Public Meetings Act that boil down to a lack of transparency in the settlement's approval, plaintiff's attorney John W. Trimble Jr. said Wednesday.

“I don't understand why they're trying to hide the terms of the settlement,” said Trimble, who represents resident Gary Kuehnapfel in the suit. “It flies in the face of what the Open Public Meetings Act is all about.”

Kuehnapfel, a Gloucester County College employee, claims in the suit the Republican-majority West Deptford committee violated OPMA by failing to disclose those terms.

While Sunoco officials have said it's a $15 million deal, and the township committee passed a bond ordinance to bond up to $15 million, Mayor Ray Chintall wouldn't actually confirm that was the settlement amount just after the committee , even when pressed by residents and members of the press on the issue.

In a statement released by Trimble's office, Kuehnapfel said that course was unacceptable.

“I am fed up with the public's business being conducted behind closed doors,” Kuehnapfel said in the statement. “The tax appeal litigation is too important to West Deptford's taxpayers to be settled without transparency to the public.”

Trimble, a Democratically-connected attorney based in Turnersville, said the lack of details about the settlement is in conflict with OPMA guidelines.

“They need to place on the record what the settlement is,” he said. “You can't just say, 'This is a good deal.' ”

The suit doesn't allege any wrongdoing in the settlement itself, Trimble said, but only targets what he called a mishandled process.

That's more than enough to pursue under OPMA, Trimble said, without even considering what former Mayor Len Daws and several open government advocates pointed to as another potential violation—.

“They could've cleared this up simply by doing it right,” Trimble said.

Kuehnapfel's suit comes at the same time the Democratically-controlled county government is , who said he's been trying to get the basics from the West Deptford committee after last Thursday's approval of the settlement.

The lawsuit could potentially land in court in short order; Trimble said it should be in the hands of Superior Court Assignment Judge Georgia M. Curio shortly, if it isn't already, and could be reviewed by her office by next week.

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.

A similar suit Trimble brought against Elk Township last October was resolved within about 10 weeks.

Chintall declined to go on the record when contacted about the lawsuit, pointing again, as he has with the Sunoco settlement, to the issue of it being ongoing litigation.

“I can't comment,” he said.

Bill Bondar March 08, 2012 at 01:09 PM
After reading this article a few questions come to mind. How can a part-time Gloucester County College employee making $11k a year afford to retain a Democratically-connected attorney to file a OPMA lawsuit against West Deptford Township? Closed sessions, as described in this lawsuit, have happened quite often by the previous administration, but now Mr.Kuehnapfel has had an epiphany and decides to sue the township. Unless he has deep pockets, or his attorney, Mr. Trimble, is providing pro bono services, one would think that possibly the Gloucester Democratic Committee was picking up the tab. Giving Mr. Kuehnapfel the benefit of the doubt, It is within his right to file this lawsuit, but if it's ever exposed that this lawsuit is being backed by the Gloucester County Democratic party, in their efforts to lay waste to the Sunoco settlement, and undermine the work of the new administration, we all as West Deptford residents end up paying for Mr. Kuehnapfel's lawsuit.
Michael Matlock March 08, 2012 at 01:36 PM
This is very alarming the number of lawsuits filed against the township under this new administration. Ray and Sam better get their act together. Bill, you sound like the Obama supporters that blame everything on the Bush administration. Docimo is gone so why do you keep harping on the previous administration. This current administration is getting sued every other week. What the hell is going on?
Bill Bondar March 08, 2012 at 01:59 PM
Michael, What is the alarming number of lawsuits? I am referring to the one and the only one mentioned in the article above. Unless you are being facetious, I am not aware of any bi-weekly lawsuits. Bryan, help me out here. Do you have a list of all the lawsuits against the new administration? Mike, I attend the monthly township meetings to find out what the hell is going on... We'll talk.
fred flintstone March 08, 2012 at 02:22 PM
word has it that the democratic machine is footing the bill at the taxpayers expense. beside the person that is doing the lawsuit is sweeney's nephew. so go figure
Bryan Littel (Editor) March 08, 2012 at 02:47 PM
The big three off the top of my head are this OPMA suit, Michael Crowley's suit over 113 Cromwell Court and T-Mobile's suit over a cell phone tower they're trying to install back behind Pennfield. The T-Mobile suit was filed last year, though.
John Hayden March 08, 2012 at 04:44 PM
So, if "The suit doesn't allege any wrongdoing in the settlement itself, Trimble said, but only targets what he called a mishandled process.", why does the suit seek to nullify the settlement? Don't those two concepts seem mutually exclusive? Why nullify something you don't think is wrong? This doesn't even pass the sniff test.
fred flintstone March 08, 2012 at 05:37 PM
you want lawsuits sue patch for printing ficticious propaganda.get the facts before you print anything not just hearsay.
J. Smith March 08, 2012 at 08:39 PM
I wish Mayor Chintall was more focused on getting resolution of the Sunoco tax appeal done correctly rather than rushing into a settlement. Chintall should put aside politics and personal issues and work with Sweeney and Damminger to minimize the hit to West Deptford taxpayers. It is foolish to go it alone, behind closed doors.
Barry Goldwater March 08, 2012 at 11:38 PM
Cianfarinit needs to wisen up real fast!
ThomasJefferson March 09, 2012 at 02:02 AM
Mr, Cianfarini seems to have a level of arrogance since elected. I thought he wanted to work for all the residents, he keeps alienating people.
John Hayden March 09, 2012 at 03:26 AM
I wonder if you two anonymous commenting clowns realize that Ray Chintall is the mayor, not Sam Cianfarini.
Terry Holovachuk March 09, 2012 at 01:51 PM
Two lawsuits in two months...we're on track to hit twelve by the end of the new majority's first year in office...well, I guess it can now be said they're good at something.
Babs Terner March 09, 2012 at 02:01 PM
They could be on their way to a statewide record in the number of lawsuits in a single year. And yes, Sam's arrogance is simply astonishing. I have never met a more arrogant man in my life. Stop conducting the public's business behind closed doors and start practicing some transparency.
DumbandDumber March 09, 2012 at 02:43 PM
The Phillies will lead the league in wins, Cianfarini and Chintall will lead the league in most lawsuits brought against a town. The only thing that outweights Cinafarini's arrogance is his blatant stupidity. Chintall is better off playing Nintendo, it fits his IQ better, he is more in tune with Super Mario Brothers than trying to hash out a multi-million dollar settlement with corporate lawyers. You really can't make this stuff up, less than 2 months into office, Sam and Ray succumb to corporate greed, and hand Sunoco a blank check on the taxpayers in a secret, closed-door meeting. And these clowns think this is ok? Maybe they can hand me a $15 million dollar check for no reason. It should have taken these two at LEAST two months to even read over the case file regarding Sunoco, instead, they tried to play tough guys, and are going to cost the taxpayers of WD MILLIONS OF DOLLARS.
B. Andersen March 09, 2012 at 03:07 PM
Will there be another lawsuit coming from Committeeman Kilpatrick against Sam and Ray for signing his name to quotes he never said. I heard it is in the works. This could be another suit added to the escalating lawsuit epidemic!
John Hayden March 09, 2012 at 05:02 PM
So which is it? A blank check, or $15 million? Do you anonymous commenting clowns even read what you write?
Verymysterious March 09, 2012 at 06:48 PM
Rumor has it that Councilman Kilpatrick is going to file an ethics complaint against Mayor Chintall and Sam Cianfarini for signing his to quotes without permission---This is going to get very, very interesting.
John Hayden March 09, 2012 at 07:15 PM
You said that already. Twice.
demsrstupid March 09, 2012 at 08:00 PM
rumor has it ray and sam is bringing a lawsuit against the patch Look out bryan. I hope there is so many lawsuits against west deptford they raise your taxes thru the roof. you idiots deserve it.and the town turns communist
keepin' it real April 13, 2012 at 10:50 PM
To Mr. John Hayden: A lot of the posts on here are from the same people, which could be one person, with different screen names. I have been reading their posts since the republicans took office, which is four or five months ago, and they are nonstop at bashing and hating the republicans. You should have seen the LIES and malicious remarks they were making on NJ.com West Deptford forums. Now he (they) have moved over here to the patch. He (they) is just a sore DEMOCRATIC LOSER.

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