Public Records Denials Put Belmar Before State Records Council

Mayor Doherty says Borough is committed to transparency, but will protect individuals' privacy too.

A state agency is scheduled to decide whether the Borough of Belmar was right in denying several individuals and organizations access to public records when the Government Records Council convenes Tuesday.

Five complaints against the borough are on the records council’s agenda on Tuesday – more cases than any other single municipality in the state.

Mayor Matt Doherty says the borough is protecting the privacy of some Superstorm Sandy victims who received aid through the borough in at least two of the cases before the records council.

One, brought by Councilman Jim Bean, seeks an accounting of spending that passed through the borough to victims of the storm.

“After discovering a municipal handwritten check for $18,000 used to purchase Shop-Rite gift cards, the red flags went up,” Bean said. “Our mayor decided that the borough is now a charity and that only himself and one borough employee is going to decide who is worthy of receiving these funds.” 

Mayor Doherty made no apology for not releasing the names of Sandy victims who received aid through the borough, likening the situation to the recipients of a free and reduced lunch program at a public school, or those who receive food assistance through the federal government’s food stamp program.

“Just as we do not publicly disclose the names of people who receive public assistance, we do not disclose who needed this assistance,’’ Doherty said. “Councilman Bean has made of political issue of this, and has constantly voted against helping families displaced by Sandy.”

Among the cases to be decided by the records council on Tuesday are:

  • Five cases brought against the Borough of Belmar Police Department by Darien Vitello. Four of those cases have been combined by the records council.
  • One brought by Councilman Jim Bean against the Borough of Belmar
  • One against the Borough of Belmar brought by Vincent T. Ehmann
  • One against the Borough of Belmar brought by The Coast Star newspaper

No details on the cases were immediately available late Friday from the records council.

Doherty said the Coast Star is seeking the same or similar information requested by Bean, that Vitello’s complaints were related to a wrongful termination lawsuit he has brought against the police department and that Ehmann was seeking information related to a wire transfer to a contractor who worked in Belmar during the storm.

“Belmar has, and will continue to be, fully transparent regarding the functions of government,” Doherty said. “We will also protect the privacy of our families that were victims of Sandy.” 

The Government Records Council was created in 2001 with the state’s Open Public Records Act and it acts as the final arbiter of access to public record, rendering decisions on whether a denial of access to a public record was justified or whether a government agency should be compelled to provide the requested information.

Anyone who has been denied access to public records from a government agency can file a complaint with the records council and an investigation will ensue, according to the GRC website.

The Government Records Council is scheduled to meet at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday at the state Department of Community Affairs offices, 101 South Broad Street in Trenton. The meeting is open to the public.


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