Lawsuit claims that Bridgeton violated Open Public Meetings Act

NJFOG posted last fall about the financial trouble and mismanagement at the Bridgeton Port Authority, which has not been operating for some time.  The Authority’s board was re-formed in recent years with appointees consisting mainly of city council members, who are now being sued for their failure to disclose at public meetings the sale of Authority assets to the city.  -NJFOG

NJ Open Gov’t Notes blog
by John Paff
July 31, 2015
(Blog post below and here.)

According to July 22, 2015 court filing, the City of Bridgeton entered into a “secret agreement” with its Municipal Port Authority in order to evade a $823,000 judgment against the Authority.  The lawsuit alleges that Bridgeton officials violated the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) “by not disclosing at the public meetings the agreement between the City and the [Port Authority].”

According to the Second Amended Complaint filed in Henry Grove Diversified Investments, LLP and Thomas Martin, v. Bridgeton Municipal Port Authority, et al, Docket No. CUM-L-425-15, the “non-functioning, debt ridden and mismanaged” Port Authority entered into a secret agreement to sell its assets to the City for $225,000 in an apparent attempt to limit its liability to Henry Grove–the holder of the judgment–to the $225,000 realized through the sale.  The sale, according to the lawsuit, furthers the City’s belief that “it can somehow evade the Fiscal Control Laws and specifically N.J.S.A. 48A:5A-20 and dissolve the [Authority] and not be required to pay the unpaid bills.”

The suit claims that the Port Authority, which the Chairman of the Local Finance Board described in October 2014 as lacking any purpose, “is simply a puppet of the City of Bridgeton [which] has acted as the alter ego of the City of Bridgeton and is controlled by [Mayor Albert B. Kelly].”  Kelly, who serves as Bridgeton’s Mayor and also as a member of the Port Authority, made the motion at the Port Authority’s May 13, 2015 meeting to sell its assets to the City.

As for the OPMA violation, the lawsuit alleges that “the decision to sell assets from the [Authority] was done in secret. There is no written contract. It was not discussed] and properly vented at a public session of the [Authority] the City of Bridgeton. Ultimately a resolution by the [Authority] was passed but the actions of the City and the [Authority] are violative of the New Jersey Open Public Meetings Act.”  The OPMA states that the public’s right to observe governmental decision making “is vital to the enhancement and proper functioning of the democratic process.”