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West Deptford Sued Over Possible OPMA Violations

A resident has filed a complaint in Superior Court over January and March closed-session meetings in a bid to stop a $15 million property tax settlement.

A West Deptford resident has filed suit against the township committee in Superior Court over closed-session about , 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, .

“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.

harold walker March 07, 2012 at 05:23 PM
how ironic that these attorneys are in cahoots with sweeney and norcross. there was no violation that took place. The previous administration always had closed meetings.kuephnagel or whatever better have a lot of money or is the democrats paying for this one.Sweeney your losing the township move on
Trans Parency March 07, 2012 at 08:19 PM
This is what happens when you elect two clueless tyrants to run the township that keep everything behind closed doors. Sam and Ray are typical politicians that say anything to get elected then do the exact opposite when in office. So much for transparency. Wdtruth should be all over this story.
John Hayden March 07, 2012 at 10:07 PM
I wonder how many of the anonymous commenting clowns, who will be posting in here momentarily, will have actually read the NJ OPMA text... N.J.S.A. 10:4-12. Meetings open to public; exclusion of public; subject matter of discussion a. Except as provided by subsection b. of this section all meetings of public bodies shall be open to the public at all times. Nothing in this act shall be construed to limit the discretion of a public body to permit, prohibit or regulate the active participation of the public at any meeting. b. A public body may exclude the public only from that portion of a meeting at which the public body discusses: <trimmed for brevity> (4) Any collective bargaining agreement, or the terms and conditions which are proposed for inclusion in any collective bargaining agreement, including the negotiation of the terms and conditions thereof with employees or representatives of employees of the public body. <trimmed for brevity, again> (7) Any pending or anticipated litigation or contract negotiation other than in subsection b. (4) herein in which the public body is, or may become a party. Any matters falling within the attorney-client privilege, to the extent that confidentiality is required in order for the attorney to exercise his ethical duties as a lawyer. Now, I'm not a lawyer, but wouldn't the tax appeal be "pending litigation"? I'm not seeing exactly where this "blatant, open and obvious violation of the Open Public Meetings Act" occurred.
J. Smith March 07, 2012 at 10:22 PM
I can't comment on whether or not what was done in closed session was legal (since it is not known by anybody but those in the closed meeting), but I thought the resolution authorizing the amount of the Sunoco refund should be public information. That resolution is not available on the Township website with the agenda???Certainly negotiations are still confidential, but the Township Committee had concluded negotiations with Sunoco and settled for some big, secret number. That is what is wrong. Tell the public the refund amount, and what it is going to do to taxes. That is what open government is about.
Another voice March 07, 2012 at 10:37 PM
Not how I see it. This is what happens when bitter people lose an election, thereby losing their financial stranglehold on the community. If they violated - their lawyer gave them bad advice. Fix it. Wouldn't be the first time (see Gloucester County Freeholder unprecedented court appointed supervisor for numerous violations of the OPMA. Despite the advice of their lawyer).
pollywantacracker March 07, 2012 at 11:05 PM
First of all our taxes will not be going up. 15,000,000 was the settlement in comparison to 43 million if it went to court. A bond will be paid by the insurance carrier,it's not like when west deptford lost a couple of years ago when docimo was going to raise our taxex 46 cents per $100.00. When are the people going to read in get involved on the laws and by-laws of this township instead of mouthing off on here.If you don't know what your talking about shut your pie hole.
fred flintstone March 07, 2012 at 11:23 PM
Do you people realize this will hold up the process.The dems will do anything to sink this administration because they have lost their stranglehold of our community.If this keeps going on you know who's gonna win in the longrun SUNOCO. Instaed of 15mil. they are gonne get by a judge's order 50mil.So residents of wd wake up and smell the coffee.The dems are only in it for the money not for you. Do you see a pattern first the demolition of the crowley house now that has stopped ( litigation) now this settlement. THE DEMS ARE MAKING A MOCKERY OF THE RESIDENTS OF THIS TOWNSHIP. tHEY DON'T CARE ABOUT THE STRUGGLES of the working people especially the ones that lost their jobs with sunoco.They aren't going to the doors of the less fortunate to see if they need help. THINGS CAN SURE GET UGLY.
Bryan Littel (Editor) March 07, 2012 at 11:24 PM
We'll have an update later, John, which should clarify some of that. It probably goes without saying that it's a bit complicated.
Michael Matlock March 08, 2012 at 01:44 PM
Chintall signed a resolution regarding the settlement so disclose the terms of the settlement to the residents. This is outrageous. This is outright corruption by this new republican administration. They should be thrown in jail. How can they settle in two months when they have no clue what is going . And I'm already hearing about another lawsuit coming next week.
fred flintstone March 08, 2012 at 03:54 PM
MICHAEL you have to let go of docimo's apron string and realize by draggingt his on it's costing the taxpayers money every day. of course after may i'll be moving to an area that doesn't have this nonsense. I hope you get what you wish for increase in your taxes and more agony from the rep. keep up the good work C & C .you're doing your job you got the dems at your fingertips. one more thing matlock you're living proof that the three stooge's had kids
Bill Bondar March 08, 2012 at 10:34 PM
I posted the first post on this subject this morning. I questioned the motive for this lawsuit. It has been now been deleted. Who is at the controls?
Bryan Littel (Editor) March 08, 2012 at 10:42 PM
If you're referring to your comment on the other article, it got flagged off, but it's back.
Barry Goldwater March 08, 2012 at 11:36 PM
Sam, you can try to deflect under your multiple screen names all you want but you guys continue to make amateur mistakes and are costing the taxpayers millions of dollars. Do you guys really expect the residents to believe you went through 7 years of litigation in one month and decided to settle for $15 million dollars. This doesnt pass the smell test. This is what happens when you have the likes of Chintall, Cianfarini, Umba, and Matlosz calling the shots and WD is in big time trouble. I expect many more lawsuits as the year continues.

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