Former Union City deputy police chief and private investigator Joseph Blaettler is back on the right-to-public-information beat. He filed a lawsuit against the city of Union City and the city clerk in Hudson County Superior Court on April 6. An initial court hearing that had been scheduled for May 11 has now been deferred because the city had only recently received the complaint paperwork and was “unprepared,” Blaettler claimed.
Blaettler, a frequent critic of Mayor Brian Stack whose investigations have brought several scandals in Union City to light over the past year, filed the complaint against the city and the clerk after three Open Public Records Act (OPRA) requests he made in February and March remained unfulfilled. By state law, requests for OPRA documents must be handled within seven business days.
“It ultimately costs tax payers money because they have to pay to defend all of this.” – Joseph Blaettler
The complaint, filed by Blaettler’s attorney Walter M. Luers, demands the requested OPRA documents, plus demands the city pay the costs incurred by the request and subsequent attorney fees, and “further and different relief as the Court may deem equitable and just.”
As for the OPRA request regarding the OEM director’s salary, Blaettler claims he has been paid $150,000 in overtime over the last three years, and that the city’s municipal workers union has also been fighting for this information. If true, “That’s $59,000 a year in overtime,” he said, “and Stack is complaining he has no money.”
Blaettler is more concerned with attorney and state Sen. Kevin O’Toole, he said, because of his alleged friendship with Stack, close alliance with Gov. Christopher Christie, and subsequent contracts with the city. “I’m curious to see how much O’Toole is making off of Union City every year,” he said.
One more for the road
Blaettler also filed OPRA requests on April 2 for the invoices for payments made by the city to investigator Walter Timpone and the law firm of McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney and Carpenter, LLP between June 2011 and the present.
The requests pertain to the investigation made in October 2011 by Timpone into former Police Chief Charles Everett’s alleged manipulation of off-duty security details work that was supposed to give preference to lower-ranking police. Mayor Stack directed the city to hire the investigator after News 12 reported Everett earned money for off-duty security details at the town’s athletic field and pools last September and for being paid by the Board of Education for work he allegedly never showed up for.
In his October report, Timpone recommended that disciplinary charges be brought against Everett for alleged neglect of duty, performance of duty, obedience to laws and regulations, and failure to comply with lawful orders.
“Why did Stack spend thousands on an investigation and then not follow the advice of the attorney?” Blaettler posited. “Nothing happened, and now taxpayers have to cover Everett’s $330,000 payout and the attorney fees.”
Everett retired the day before the investigative findings were released, and no disciplinary action was taken.
OPRA as recurrent issue
This is not Blaettler’s first hassle with Union City and unfulfilled OPRA requests.
In January, he was asked by a Union City municipal clerk to pay a $1,920 fee for one of the larger requests he made late 2011. The clerk told Blaettler that OPRA requests that require over three hours of research incur a labor fee of $32 per hour.
Blaettler also filed a suit back in April 2011 for records he attempted to obtain, but failed to get. Stack’s spokesman Mark Albiez responded in January that Blaettler could have used the state Government Records Council rather than a lawsuit to address his complaint.
“Contrary to what people may think, I have too many other clients outside of Union City to spend all of my time waiting for OPRA requests that will never be released,” Blaettler said. “It ultimately costs taxpayers money because they have to pay to defend all of this.”
Stack’s spokesman Mark Albiez did not respond to a request for comment by press time.
Gennarose Pope may be reached at email@example.com