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West Deptford-Sunoco Settlement Voided By Court

Judge Eugene McCaffrey Jr. ruled the township committee violated the Open Public Meetings Act in failing to disclose the terms of the $15 million deal.

The West Deptford township committee violated the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) and acted improperly by not disclosing the terms of over tax appeals at , Judge Eugene McCaffrey Jr. ruled Thursday morning, before wiping out the deal.

“The settlement with Sunoco is declared void,” McCaffrey said in his ruling in .

But while the township violated OPMA, McCaffrey said he believed it wasn’t part of a pattern of violations, or a willful or knowing violation by itself, and that no penalties or sanctions would be applied.

“At best, it was clumsy,” he said.

In effect, the judge hit the reset button on the process, and told the township committee they could pursue the settlement again, but would have to go about it more transparently than they did previously.

“You’re going to have to have a public hearing,” McCaffrey said. “I leave it to the township where to go from there.”

Before rendering his decision, McCaffrey grilled West Deptford solicitor Anthony Ogozalek Jr. and plaintiff’s attorney John Trimble Jr. on the facts of the case, and debated with Ogozalek at length about what transparency was required with respect to OPMA.

McCaffrey honed in on West Deptford’s lack of detail in the original resolution authorizing settlement, which didn’t even specify the amount—that came in a refunding bond ordinance the committee passed soon after the settlement resolution—or any other information about the settlement.

“Oddly, the township chose to do that in the submission to the Local Finance Board,” he said, noting the township told the state in that document, which is public record, that the tax appeals could’ve run anywhere from $15 million, where they settled, on up to as high as $47.5 million on just the eight years of taxes Sunoco was contesting.

“When you make that decision, that’s got to be before the public,” McCaffrey said.

Ogozalek told the judge the various pieces of the settlement—the Local Finance Board application, the bond ordinance and the settlement resolution—ultimately contained all the relevant details.

“It’s a fine line the township is walking,” he said. “They’re trying to be as open as possible.”

But McCaffrey disagreed with that notion.

“You can’t piece together compliance,” he said.

Ogozalek said the township committee was prepared to present the full details of the settlement to the public, potentially as early as tonight, as the township committee tries to determine what to do from here.

West Deptford Mayor Ray Chintall and committeeman Sam Cianfarini, who were both present for the proceeding, declined to comment on the decision.

Ken April 14, 2012 at 12:10 PM
I agree the presentation was great. But why did it take a judge to get that presentation to the public? Sam admitted it was the same presentation that he showed at the closed session. There was nothing in there that would have jepardised anything had we been shown it the following week. then we would be moving on not taking a half step back. At the meeting it was apparent that blaming the prior committee for "kicking the can" may have been inacurate, as "ALL THE STARS NEEDED TO ALIGN" to make this settlement work. maybe all the previous talks were just not good enough deals, we'll never know. but lets just move on and stop the bashing.
ThomasJefferson April 14, 2012 at 03:35 PM
Admittedly, I was not present at the meeting, my issue isn't with the actual settlement,and whether it is a good deal or not. What is scary is that it did take a Superior Court Judge to bring it to light. MANY promises of transparency in all areas was just one of the campaign promises made by new committee. My experience in life says if they were willing to do this on day one, they will attempt to bilk the public again and that is just bad government. It has to be in the open. The judge stated;" You can't piece together compliance". This was supposed to be a NEW DAY for West Deptford Twp.
lori rogers April 14, 2012 at 04:42 PM
I have to laugh at the responses given by the few residents that plague this site with various comments.Does it really matter if the presentation was given prior to tuesday's meeting.It's only a handful of people that show up at these meetings,95% of the twonship residents could care less how it's settled.Just settle it and move on. I guess these frustrated individuals that didn't get there buddy in for office will say anything that will make the current administration look bad.However in a short period of time,they accomplished something that the democrats didn't.
Bill Bondar April 14, 2012 at 05:17 PM
We all know that there ultimately has to be a settlement. So there is no use in griping about the settlement. I've been living in this town for seven years and attending the township meetings for about five. I have never heard about any of this debt until the Republican candidates ran for office. When I attended the meetings in the past, it was over in about 30 minutes and there were more department heads present than residents. Seemed like either nobody cared what went on or they were not allowed to speak and just stayed home. Now that everyone is allowed to speak there is always a few party hacks that are told to spew venom. Don't take it out on the new committee, they didn't get us into this mess. That is why I asked if there were legal channels the township could take to investigate for possible criminal charges be bought against all parties responsible for this debt. This ain't chump change, its millions of our money. Don't let the previous administration walk away from this licking their chops from the spoils of their theft..
keepin' it real April 16, 2012 at 01:38 PM
You're right Lori, something they couldn't accomplish in 20 + years! Shame on ALL OF YOU! God will deal with you all!

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