Daily Archives: March 23, 2009

Township Of Middletown Sewage Authority (TOMSA) In Violation of OPRA Law

What is the Township Of Middletown Sewage Authority (TOMSA) hiding and why wont they comply with  OPRA requests?

Middletown resident Carolyn Schwebel has been trying for weeks to get information about compensation and benefits that are given TOMSA Commissioners. She wants to know if commissioners receive health benefits to go along with their maximum yearly stipend of $1750.
Health benefits for TOMSA commissioners has become a hot button issue among some in town since Committeeman Sean Brynes suggested that these benefits should not be awarded to Township appointed officials. 
Sean Brynes suggested during recent budget meetings, that in order to save township tax payers money during these hard economic times, the township should look into ending the practice of giving sewage authority commissioners health benefits.  According to TOMSA meeting minutes, most meeting last on average less than 1 hour per month.  Brynes therefore argued that to pay each of the 7 township committee appointed commissioners a stipend of $1750 per year and health benefits was excessive.
Committeeman Brynes’s suggestion to discontinue the practice of awarding benefits to TOMSA commissioners was dismissed entirely by the King and Queen of the Township Committee, Gerry (I want to be an Assemblyman) Scharfenberger and Pam Brightbill. Both argued that the  health benefits that the commissioners enjoy are not issued by the township but by TOMSA and therefore the township committee could not act to take away the benefits. When pressed further on the issue, the mayor and deputy-mayor simply resorted to the old standby line of  ” they do a good job so they deserve it”.
This answer lead to Mrs. Schwebel and others to seek the ordinances which established the creation of the sewage authority through an OPRA request.  For their effort they receive several ordinances and resolutions from the township clerk.       
Ordinance 1856, notes salaries to be paid to commissioners, but adds, “as shall hereafter be determined by the Township of Middletown Sewerage Authority, provided, however, that in no event may any member receive any additional compensation for his services as officer, agent, or employee of such authority,” 
In no ordinance or resolution  was the issuance of health benefits stated or mandated by the Township Committee when it authorized the creation of TOMSA. In fact, it seems that the Township Committee was quite clear in ordinance 1856, that NO other compensation was to be given to commissioners. So what happened to change this?  Carolyn Schwebel was told by the township clerk that she would have to submit a separate OPRA request with TOMSA to find out. So, that is exactly what she did.
Finally on Friday of this past week, Carolyn Schwebel received word that her OPRA request was ready for pick-up and that it would cost her $1.00 per page. When she stated that she had requested that the pages be faxed or emailed to her because she has a disability and it is hard for her to get around, therefore there should be no cost.
When she insisted to the secretary that her request should be faxed or emailed to her as OPRA guide lines allow, the director of TOMSA, non other than are very own disgraced former mayor, Patrick Parkinson said “We don’t do that”‘ and that the payment is to pay them for “running around collecting the stuff.” Parkinson said, “We have always done it this way, and they do it all over the state.”.
Mrs. Schwebel said to Patrick Parkinson, that OPRA materials and Middletown clerk’s OPRA request form describes the 75 cents per page as a copying fee only, and “The fees for duplication of a government record in printed form are listed on the front of this form.”

She told him the town clerk, does not refuse to send fax or e-mail responses. Parkinson responded by saying that they have nothing to do with the township clerk, and that they have their own form. Parkinson said that he would mail her OPRA response once they had her check.

This is truly an outrage and unfortunately this type of behavior seems to be standard practice amongst Middletown GOP members. When residents ask hard questions or seek out information that may be embarrassing to the local GOP, people like Patrick Parkinson, Gerry Scharfenberger or Pam Brightbill will either refuse to answer them, stonewall  or discourge people from abtaining  the information that they are after.
As Carolyn Schwebel states in her letter sent to township officials and copied to me:
“I am concerned that in spite of their salary, medical benefits, and pension, the Middletown Sewerage Authority Commissioners are not demonstrating proper oversight of TOMSA. This violation of OPRA has apparently existed since the beginning of OPRA. The policy needs to be rectified by the TOMSA commissioners and you. Other residents have no doubt been given the wrong information already and have had to go in and pay to get printed copies that they neither needed not wanted. The policy under TOMSA can be a to burden older people, working people and those with disabilities.”

Stop the stalling TOMSA and send the documents that Mrs. Schwebel has requested.  Stop trying to cover up and be forthright with Middletown residents by answering the questions. 
Are commissioners of  TOMSA receiving other benefits other than the stipend originally outline in township ordinance 1856? If so, why? And who authorized commissioners to receive health benefits and a state pension? I and others would like to know.       


   

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Filed under Carolyn Schwebel, Middletown Township, OPRA requests, Patrick Parkinson, Sean F. Byrnes, Sewage Authority, TOMSA