Turbine Questions In Writing Only, Council Says
Cites potential litigation
March 25, 2010
by Erik Weber
Ocean Gate - An unexpected announcement by the borough council that all questions regarding its two wind turbine projects would no longer be answered during open public session surprised many members of the public present during last night's council meeting, here.
"Due to recent allegations of myself and a resident, I've been advised by borough council not to entertain any more questions concerning this due to possible litigation," said Mayor Paul Kennedy.
The allegations he referred to stemmed from a letter that was sent by borough resident Luke Riley to the Ocean Gate Borough Council, the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office, the Asbury Park Press and borough residents questioning the legality of the borough wind turbine contracts, accusing Ocean Gate of "following in New Jersey's blueprint for failure," and claiming ethics violations on the part of the mayor and the wind turbine projects' advocate and borough resident, Jim Fry, in the process of having the turbine purchased and built.
In addition to sending the letters out, an unidentified man stood at the doors of the borough hall courtroom handing out stapled copies of the letter to members of the public entering for the meeting. He did not stay for the meeting.
Borough Attorney James Gluck stated that due to this new possibility for litigation, all further inquiries regarding the projects would need to be submitted in writing and sent or dropped off to his office in order to receive an official response from the borough, so that there is "no misconstruing the answer and position of the borough."
The current wind turbine was officially turned on last November 20th, during a ceremony at 12:30pm, by Mayor Kennedy and Mr. Fry. Following its installation, the borough received state-wide accolades for being the first municipality in New Jersey with its own turbine.
In recent months, however, a group varying in size from approximately one to two dozen residents has been attending borough council meetings to voice their disapproval for the borough's second wind turbine project, currently in the contract stage, and noise complaints with the first.
Many members of this group reacted with disbelief at the announcement that the borough would no longer respond verbally to inquiries regarding the wind projects, and made public their opinions on it.
"I don't understand why some of us, as taxpayers and residents, are being penalized on turbine questions that we've started asking since January, because somebody has done something on their own," stated Ocean Gate Avenue resident Katherine Ranuro, referring to the threat of litigation posed by Mr. Riley's letter and its statements. "We haven't done anything ourselves, other than getting up week after week, that would shut down council from answering."
"Why would we not be able to have any information?" she asked.
"It's not that you're not going to be able to have any information, it's that we would like the questions specifically submitted in writing, as you have done," replied Mr. Gluck. "My office will prepare a response to them."
Ms. Ranuro felt this limited the scope of information that would be known by those attending borough council meetings.
"That only becomes a dialogue between the letter writer and you," she said. "It doesn't go out and get disseminated within the population; that seems to me not a very democratic process."
"I don't think we should all be clamped up," she added.
"I don't think you're being clamped up, and I don't think that the position of this council would be that information should only be shared with the letter writer," replied Mr. Gluck. "I think that [the letters] would become a public record of the borough [and] would be available to you by anybody that requested it."
Ms. Ranuro balked at the notion that all the potential members of the public who would attend borough council meetings would independently submit requests to view the letters during regular business hours.
West Barnegat Avenue resident Larry Murray asked if the borough's response to written letters would be read during subsequent borough council meetings to allow attending members of the public the chance to hear it at once.
"There will be a response on behalf of the borough through my office to any question that is asked and that document will be available to anyone who wants to see it," replied Mr. Gluck.
"So somebody has to come over here, to borough hall, to read it?" asked Mr. Murray.
"Well, they would have to come here to hear the answer...," said Mr. Gluck.
"Will the answers be read?" asked Mr. Murray.
"No, the answers will not be read but they will be provided to you in writing," replied Mr. Gluck.
"So it's not gonna be a public answer, it's going to be an answer to me, in writing," said Mr. Murray.
"That document will be available to the public to anyone that chooses to review it, whether they have time to actually be at the meeting, to listen to the question, or whether they don't have the time to be at the meeting and they can request the document later on," continued Mr. Gluck. "Instead of them hearing hearsay as to what the attorney said, what the council said, it will be put in writing as the answer of the position of this council."
"That's not an answer, that’s just shutting us up," mumbled Mr. Murray as he walked back to his seat.
Ms. Ranuro replied that interested members of the public would not know when a letter was sent or received in order to request it.
"I'm not suggesting you will need to file an [Open Public Records Act] request to this," said Mr. Gluck, adding that he advised the council to post all letters and subsequent answers onto the public bulletin boards located in the hallway of borough hall. "The council is not trying to hide anything from anybody."
West Long Branch Avenue resident and First Aid Squad member Paul Stanley asked how many written letters Mr. Gluck's office received since the beginning of the wind turbine debate earlier this year.
"One," replied Mr. Gluck.
"So we're not talking about a massive amount of correspondence," said Mr. Stanley. "Can the council read the answers out into the public?"
"I don't see why not," replied Mayor Kennedy. "As far as I'm concerned, they can have both [the letters posted to the bulletin board and read aloud during council meetings]. There's nothing to hide here."
Mr. Gluck suggested that rather than spend time reading each letter during borough council meetings, they could be printed and attached to the meeting agendas.
"With all respect, you have one request," replied Mr. Stanley. "I'd understand a thousand requests, but how long would it take you or someone on council to read [the letters] into the public record - five minutes?"
"We don't have a problem with it," replied Councilman Frank Santarpia.
Mayor Kennedy and all members of the borough council unanimously agreed that letters written by Mr. Gluck's office in response to written inquiries about the wind turbine projects would be read into public record during borough council meetings.