State League of Municipalities faces public records challenge

In Uncategorized on June 3, 2008 at 12:56 pm

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Star-Ledger Staff

A state Superior Court judge has directed the New Jersey State League of Municipalities, the lobbying arm for New Jersey’s 566 municipal governments, to show why it should not be subject to the state’s Open Public Records Act.

In what is considered a unique case for New Jersey, the Fair Share Housing Center, a nonprofit Cherry Hill-based affordable housing activist organization, has gone into court in Trenton to argue that the League of Municipalities is, among other things, taxpayer funded. The organization says the league should be ordered to make public records detailing its opposition to new affordable housing regulations being shaped by the state Council on Affordable Housing.

Judge Linda Feinberg has set a hearing on the issue for July 18 in Trenton, it was learned yesterday.

Kevin Walsh, Fair Share Housing Center counsel, said the league, with input from local officials, recommends actions for local governments to take, including opposition to affordable housing.

“The league has two committees that include mayors set up to study” proposed housing regulations, he said. “League employees are part of the state pension system. The league was established by an act of the state Legislature and has members covered by the Open Public Records Act. The league is actively involved in fighting the regulations and we are interested in what they have to say about them.”

League of Municipalities officials strongly disagree.

“We are not a government agency,” said Bill Kerns, league counsel. “The league has no governmental powers, no governmental authority. It’s a volunteer organization.”

“It’s a frivolous lawsuit,” said William Dressel, league director. “It has absolutely no standing. Quite frankly, it’s kind of annoying.”

Walsh is hoping Feinberg will consider a 2005 state Supreme Court ruling in a case brought by the Times of Trenton against the Lafayette Yard Community Development Group, which said a private nonprofit body created to assist the city of Trenton with the development of a new hotel is subject to OPRA.

Yesterday was also the court-ordered deadline for so-called “third-round” affordable housing regulations to go into effect for some 300 municipalities under COAH jurisdiction as it attempts to provide 115,000 new or refurbished houses and apartments by 2018.

Under the new rules, COAH director Lucy Voorhoeve said, the towns must ensure there is one affordable unit for every four market value houses constructed or one unit for every 16 new jobs created by commercial development in the town.

But proposed amendments to the regulations that will not be settled until late October, COAH’s decision to grant the towns an extension until Dec. 31 to submit their new affordable housing plans, and a potential lawsuit by the League of Municipalities are expected to delay serious action on providing the housing into 2009.

The league has sought $500 from each municipality to finance a lawsuit. “We are considering a lawsuit,” said Mike Cerra, the League’s senior analyst. “It’s no secret we may challenge the regulations.”

Tom Hester may be reached at thester@starledger.com or at (609) 292-0557.

  1. New Jersey State League of Municipalities, the lobbying arm for New Jersey’s 566 municipal governments, is a complete waste of the taxpayers money. The towns use taxpayer money to fund this organization. They have conventions that cost us even more money and do little to benefit the taxpayer. The group appears to be nothing more then the “blind leading the blind”.

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