Category Archives: Sewage Authority


by guest blogger Linda Baum

TOMSA and the Library – two topics I write about often. The differences are innumerable. Now, though, they may have something in common.

In my 11-28-2011 post, “The $500,000 Raid on the Library Won’t Be the Last — The Township Committee adds two additional Library Board members, sets the stage for majority control in 2012”, I speculated that the new members of the Library Board would be well-entrenched members of the Republican Party who are already serving on other boards or commissions.

Fast forward to the Library Board meeting on Wednesday, December 14th. I arrived late to find two other visitors in attendance. One was APP reporter Kevin Penton, who attended the November Board meeting as well. The other fellow, dressed to the nines in suit and tie, looked oddly familiar. He obviously recognized me as well and tried to hide his face. It dawned on me that I know him from the TOMSA Board meetings. I decided to try out a maneuver I learned from Pat Parkinson when I attended my first TOMSA Board meeting. I said, “Hi. I’m Linda Baum, and your name?” He had his guard up and replied dryly that it was nice to meet me but that he chose not to give his name, stating his right to privacy as a member of the public.

Putting TOMSA Board members’ names with their faces has been a struggle because there are no name plates at TOMSA Board meetings even though it’s typical practice by other boards, including the Library Board. So I’m not sure who the man is, or whether he is a TOMSA Board member or perhaps one of TOMSA’s professionals or high-level employees. However, I’m told he fits the description of TOMSA Board alternate member Emil Wrede, who is also a member of the Zoning Board of Adjustment.

The man, whoever he was, left early. So did Committeeman Settembrino. At the end of the meeting, I told the Board that they had probably just met one of their newest members. Wendy Latona, Library administrator, said she already suspected as much because he came in the day before to ask for a copy of a resolution. She didn’t say which one, but he obviously obtained it on the spot. In contrast, I have yet to receive even a phone call from TOMSA in response to my own information request.

I guess we will have to wait until Township Reorganization Day on Sunday, January 1st at noon to find out, with certainty, who the new appointees are. Another date to keep in mind is the Township Committee’s regular meeting at 8:00 p.m. on Monday, December 19th, when there will be a hearing on the Township ordinance increasing the membership on the Library Board. See you there.

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Filed under board members, guest blogger, Linda Baum, Middletown Library, Sewage Authority, TOMSA


>I received today and interesting email from various Middletown friends and residents. Attached to the email was a well thought out article/letter that points out a number of issues that are effecting the Township of Middletown. The article itself was not signed by any individual so its author at this time, remains anonymous. I hope, that at some point the author steps forward because this person is directly on point with their assessment of the cronyism and the political games that take place here and contribute to the ever increasing local tax rate (its not just the schools that are driving the increasing property tax rate) and making it unaffordable for many to live in Middletown:


For years, the Democrats have maintained that the Township of Middletown was run more for the benefit of the local Republican Party and its supporters than for taxpayers. Questionable decision-making, political appointments and poor management of large-scale projects raised questions about whether important decisions were influenced more by party bosses than by taxpayers. Democratic efforts to open government and increase transparency were opposed, including opposing the televising of Township Committee meetings and passing a resolution that forced video cameras to the last row of the Township Committee Meeting Room. In this article, we examine this history by reviewing the last decade of decision-making by a Township Committee, which has been solidly in the control of the Middletown Republican Party. We emphasize that this critique focuses on the local Republican Party and the issues that concern Middletown taxpayers. We agree with many of the steps taken by Governor Christie, and Committeeman Byrnes has repeatedly stated his support for the Governor’s spending cuts. Indeed, we believe that the fiscally conservative ideals espoused by the Middletown Democratic Party cut across party lines. Although our political leanings are clear, the facts set forth below speak for themselves. If we are to survive this difficult financial crisis and hope for future prosperity, than we must reach across party lines and work together to cut taxes. But to be clear, we don’t think this Mayor and his supporters have what it takes to achieve that goal; and here’s why.


Mayor Scharfenbeger with the support of 3 of his fellow Republican Committee members voted this July to increase the tax levy on the municipal portion of Middletown’s budget by 14% in 2010. This record-setting jump in the tax levy is unprecedented and comes at a time when many taxpayers in Middletown have suffered financial setbacks. Lost jobs, frozen wages, cut backs in hours coupled with increased costs of health care and flood insurance created a perfect storm of financial pressures on families. Despite these pressures, Mayor Scharfenberger, who sharply criticized the Board of Education budget, now proposes a budget that is far worse. Just this year, the Mayor: 1) refused to create a Finance Committee, 2) refused in January to bid out the Township’s Engineering work (instead handing it to the same politically connected firm that has had it since the 1970s), 3) refused to force the Township Attorney to work on a fixed retainer, 4) refused to commence layoffs or furloughs until late in the year, 5) refused to consider making the Arts Center self-sustaining, 6) refused to consider disbanding the overhead-laden Sewerage Authority which pays its Director (a former Republican Mayor) and its Commissioners pay, pension and health benefits worth almost $200,000 per year, and 7) refused to consider televising Township meetings to allow greater transparency in government. Since coming to office he has raised taxes in Middletown over 25%. The financial treasure of this Township — taxpayer dollars — have been used to perpetuate a political machine whose tentacles extend into every corner of government. Until that reality changes, the yearly tax increases will continue.


In 2007, the Democrats had secured one seat on the Township Committee and were running 2 strong candidates. A victory for those 2 candidates would shift control of the Town government to the Democrats for the first time in decades. From the Republican side, something had to be done. In October, Just prior to the election, Mayor Scharfenberger and the Township Committee, in a 4-1 vote (Democrat Patrick Short the lone dissenter) voted to undertake a $4.0 million dollar project to dredge Shadow Lake. As someone who managed projects for a living, Mr. Short voted “no” because he had seen little evidence of a plan for the dredging and had many questions. The majority rushed this vote as part of a desperate effort to solidify Mayor Scharfenberger’s voting base in Shadow Lake Village. It worked well. Mayor Scharfenberger was narrowly re-elected, that well-connected engineering firm started spending hundreds of thousands of taxpayers’ dollars on the project, and the law firm of the Republican Party Chairman would get the bond work. Unfortunately, in their rush to get votes, the Republican Majority failed to plan for the proper staging and removal of the contaminated dredge spoils, resulting in DEP putting the brakes on the Project and cost estimates for the Project doubling. Today, the Project is essentially dead, the taxpayers are out the hundreds of thousands of dollars in engineering and surveying costs and the residents of Shadow Lake have nothing to show for it.


Ever wonder where all the money goes from the bonds that Middletown approves for real estate purchases? Bond debt in Middletown went from $48 million in 2001 to $75 million in 2009. Well, first, the issuance of bonds, a complicated legal process, is handled by the law firm of Middletown’s Republican Party Chairman (the same law firm that does bond work for the County of Monmouth along with a paid lobbying contract worth around $100,000). After the law firm takes its cut for the bond work, your taxpayer dollars often purchase contaminated real estate. Consider some recent purchases. Middletown Arts Center (10 years to clean up), COE property (contaminated), and the Mariguchi property on Middletown Lincroft Road (contaminated), and the recently purchased property, adjacent to the municipal complex (contaminated). The municipal complex property, although not recently purchased, is (you guessed it) contaminated. In fact, the Department of Environmental Protection has been trying to get the Township to finish remediating this property for years. The beauty of buying contaminated property is that it allows your hand-picked, politically-connected lawyers and engineering professionals to continuously bill for years and years.


Middletown has a nice Arts Center at the Train Station. But at what cost? This building was the pet project of a former 17-year Republican Committee member, who served on a Middletown Township Committee with no Democrats, and therefore no opposition. (She is now a full-time County employee earning almost $90,000 whose pension calculation will include her 17 years with Middletown) With no one to question the plan, the all-Republican Committee voted to purchase the Banfield Property, which they knew was contaminated. Over the next five years or so, the Township spent, mostly through new bond issues, $581,803 to purchase the property, and $7,179,551 to improve it. That’s almost $8,000,000 just to get the Arts Center constructed. The Township then leased it to a non-profit for $1.00. The Township continues to support the expenses of the Arts Center. Even with the Township paying all the debt service for the bonds, the Arts Center has utilities and personnel costs in excess of $200,000 per year. And while all this was going on, taxpayers continued to pay our politically-connected engineering professionals tens of thousands of dollars to “handle” the effort to remediate the contaminated property. It took 10 years to remediate the property. Why the Township allowed the Seller to transfer this cleanup liability to the Township remains a mystery. But the greater mystery is why the Township would choose to spend precious taxpayer dollars on such an ill-conceived project.


How much do you now about the Township of Middletown Sewerage Authority? They maintain the waste water collection and treatment system for Middletown. You might be asking yourself why is the Sewerage Authority separate from the Township Government? It’s a good question. The Sewerage Authority has 7 Commissioners, who meet once per month for under an hour. Why does the Sewerage have two more members than the Township Committee, despite having a budget a fraction of the size? Another good question. These members are entitled to a small salary, pension and most important, health benefits. Health benefits for a family can be worth over $20,000 per year. Many Township residents have no health benefits or see money removed from every paycheck to pay for these expensive benefits. Patrick Short shamed the Township Committee into discontinuing health benefits for its members several years ago, but not the Sewerage Authority. In 2009, Committeeman Byrnes introduced an ordinance to eliminated salaries and health benefits for the Sewerage Authority. The Republicans initially blocked this effort and then introduced their own ordinance that purported to eliminate these benefits, but actually grandfathered existing Sewerage Authority Commissioners. The 7 Commissioners who received these benefits are active Republicans, including a former Mayor, party Treasurer, party Vice Chair, etc. Taxpayer dollars have been providing these individuals with the aforementioned benefits for years. Moreover, as long as the Sewerage Authority remains a distinct entity, separate from Township Government, it will need its own lawyers, auditors, outside engineers, etc., all at taxpayer expense. Efforts by Committeeman Byrnes to investigate a merger of the Sewerage Authority and Township Government have been opposed by Mayor Scharfenberger.


As the largest municipality in Monmouth County, our recreations fields should be top notch. For anyone with children engaged in athletics, you know that they are not. The Pop Warner football fields need a major overhaul. Only the incredible efforts of volunteers keep these fields playable. And yet, the Township authorized funds to improve these fields in 2006. Once again, bonds were issued and the law firm of the Republican Party Chairman made money. But after that, nothing happened. Years passed, and as taxpayers paid the principal and interest on these bonds, nothing happened. Poor planning and mismanagement created hostility in the neighborhoods where work was planned. Finally, in 2010, the Township approached the Board of Education about installing turf at Thompson Middle School. When the Board of Education sought more detailed information about the scope of the work and usage of the fields, the Township ended its discussions and decided to build a new stadium complex on West Front Street without ever seeking local input. When citizens complained, the Mayor shifted gears and suggested that the current financial crisis made the project unworkable. The problem with that explanation is that the bonds were already issued, the funds have been received and the taxpayers are paying interest on those funds. So, after spending money on well-connected engineering firms for designs, etc., the taxpayers have nothing to show for this expense. Meanwhile, the fields at Croyden Hall and Trezza Field remain in poor condition. How come so many other towns in Monmouth County can build beautiful facilities with ample parking and turf fields? How many fields could have been improved with the $8.0M spent on the Arts Center?

* * *
As this year’s election approaches, you might want to ask yourself whether you want to continue the management approach of the last decade. Ask yourself whether the record of the elected majority warrants your support. If you would like to continue the pattern of purchasing contaminated properties, increasing taxes, poorly maintained fields, an unnecessary, top-heavy Sewerage Authority and ill-conceived, expensive projects that reward party bosses, lawyers and politically-connected engineers, then vote for Mayor Scharfenberger and his hand-picked running mate.

As an end note I thougth that I should point out that in the above letter the author states that taxes have risen 25% since Scharfenberger has been in office which just so happens to be a conservative number, the true figure will be more accurately close to 42%, if the current budget passes as he has proposed.


Filed under artificial turf fields, bond counsel, dredging, Gerry Scharfenberger, Middletown Cultural Arts Center, Middletown Township, property taxes, Sewage Authority, Shadow Lake

Letter: Unheeded Suggestions And Mismanagement Lead To Inefficiencies And Layoffs

Middletown is once again showing its true colors of mismanagement with the layoffs of approximately 40 employees. Layoffs might be required, but the employee making the least amount should not be the first to go.

Recently, Middletown hired a supervisor to oversee crossing guards. Why is this position required when the town has had crossing guards for years? This is just one example of the bloated government that taxpayers are footing the bill for.

There are many other cost saving measures that could take place, which might result in layoffs, but will make the town more efficient. Committeeman Sean Byrnes has presented quite a few suggestions at numerous meetings that consistently go unheeded by the rest of the Committee. Some of these are requiring engineering firms to bid on each capital project the town enters into, consolidate the maintenance operations between DPW and Parks & Recreation, if not with BOE also and consolidating the Sewer Authority into Public Works Dept., thus eliminating duplication of legal and engineering services.

Middletown has a fantastic library system that provides many services that could be provided by the Arts Center. These services are so intertwined in purpose that Byrnes has suggested that the Library and Arts Center be combined. This would offset the high costs of keeping the Arts Center open. Mr. Byrnes even suggested that revenue could be generated by conducting a daycare facility there for commuters.

There are many suggestions that are going unheeded and randomly reducing employees from all departments is certainly not an efficient means of balancing a budget.

Marilyn Tuohy
Pt. Monmouth


Filed under consolidation of services, layoffs, letter to the editor, Middletown Cultural Arts Center, Middletown Library, Middletown Parks and Recreation, public works, Sean F. Byrnes, Sewage Authority

Budget Woes in Middletown

From Sean Byrnes’s Moblize Middletown Blog:

For anyone interested, the budgetary challenges that Middletown faces this year are formidable. A perfect storm of events makes tax increases almost inevitable. But the cycle of tax increases need not continue indefinitely. Unfortunately, apathy toward what’s happening in local government guarantees continued increases.

Local government is broken. Taxes take somewhere between $6,000 and $7,000 on average from every household in Middletown, but few pay attention to how that happens. Sure, schools are expensive, but that’s a lame excuse for high taxes. Our locally elected officials continue to follow a governance model that will ensure financial deficits for the foreseeable future. It’s time to trash that model. It’s time to think outside the box. It’s time to view the tax money collected as a resource that must be spent wisely with an eye toward the entire Township, not just one public entity’s corner of it.

What I mean by that is we need to consolidate our operations and thinking. The Board of Education maintains property and the Township Committee maintains property. The Board of Education buys supplies, the Township Committee buys supplies. We provide benefits to employees and so does the Board of Education. We support artistic and cultural activities and so does the Board of Education. We hire lawyers, engineers and other professionals, and so does the Board of Education. Are you seeing a theme here? These two public entities operate in the same town completely separately from one another. Worse than that, they barely get along. And anyone who tells you that they cooperate on certain issues and work together is missing the point. The weak efforts to meet occasionally and discuss some common areas of interest produce almost no savings for the taxpayer. And, oh, we also have a Township Sewerage Authority that has its own lawyers, auditors, engineer, etc. Last year that the Sewerage Authority spent approximately $800,000 on one engineering firm. If that sounds like alot of money, it is.

To be fair, state statutes make consolidation efforts challenging. These distinct public entities are governed by different statutes. But that’s really no excuse. Locally, we have the ability to work together and share services. The Sewerage Authority, which also pays salaries, health benefits and pension benefits to its very part-time Commissioners (all seven of them) could be assimilated by the Township. In a Township with vacant land and lots of new construction, a Sewerage Authority might be necessary to deal with the activity associated with new neighborhoods all connecting to a sewer system in quick succession. We’re beyond that in Middletown. Our Public Works could take over the operations of the Sewerage Authority and save hundreds of thousands of dollars just in the costs associated with professionals. It’s time to do this.

That’s just one example of consolidation. Here’s another. We have an Arts Center that cost somewhere around $7.0 million to purchase and build. We spend hundreds of thousands of dollars every year to keep it open. (We also spent tens if not over a hundred thousand dollars to clean up the property because it was contaminated when we purchased it — and we knew it). Did we really need to take on this expensive capital project? Did the Township Committee look into leasing space at other local theaters, or working with the County, which already has arts programming taking place in close proximity to Middletown? Nope. A small group of influential elected officials wanted it, and they got it. Almost $7.0 million borrowed to get it done. It has been running at a deficit ever since, even when you don’t count the yearly payment on the bonded debt. Meanwhile, our Library, which reports to its own Board of Trustees, offers arts programming. Check out the calendar on their website. Performances, readings, movie discussion groups, teen art, cooking classes, “cartooning in clay”. Do we need two separate groups running two very expensive buildings who have nothing to do with each other? It is insane. Consolidate them. The Art Center is underutilized. How about offering some daycare there for all the commuters who jump on trains right next door every working day. You can still do Arts programming, but how about generating some revenue.

Here’s a real crazy idea. How about we make engineering firms bid for the capital projects we do every year, like roads, flood remediation, etc.? What do we do? We appoint one engineering firm every January (it just so happens that the same firm gets appointed every year, if you like, you can see them every election night at Republican Headquarters celebrating another victory with local Republicans). For any of you that have been on this earth more than a few years, here’s a question. Do you think the Township will get its best price by guaranteeing one firm all the engineering work? Or do you think we might do a bit better by making 5 or 6 firms compete for every one of these projects? I proposed just that at our Reorganization Meeting in January, but could not get any of my four fellow Committee members to second my motion. (I also had the nerve to try and limit our Township attorney to $15,000 per month flat fee retainer [which is on top of the $50,000 he gets as a salary] and that too died for loss of a second to my motion — by the way, the $15,000 per month I proposed equates to almost 1800 hours of legal time per year, that’s our attorney working all year on nothing but Middletown’s work!).

But I’ve lost my way in this blizzard we’re having, we were discussing shared services and consolidation. If this State (and this Township) has any prayer of recovering from the budget disaster we are all facing, we need real change. In addition to the proposals outlined above, we should consider consolidating the police departments of Middletown, Keyport, Union Beach, Highlands, Atlantic Highlands and maybe even Keansburg. No good reason for all those separate departments, separate municipal courts, separate judges, prosecutors, public defenders, etc. Ditto on the school systems. Red Bank, Shrewsbury, Little Silver, Rumson, Fair Haven, Sea Bright should all be one school district. Ok, if that’s too radical, why not make the grade school districts match up with the high schools. The County should take control of all major parks. They have more resources, more people and a good track record for running parks.

These ideas are just for starters. We don’t really have a choice in my opinion. The wealthiest among us are changing residency or simply relocating, and they are taking the tax revenues with them. We have way too many public employees and all taxpayers are carrying their salaries, top of the line health care plans, both during their careers and during retirement. (Middletown currently owes approximately $106 million in accrued benefits to employees and retirees and we have no trust account or plan for how we pay for that — it’s pay as you go). In 2008, we should have set aside $10 million for these benefits, we paid $1.6 million. And that’s separate from our pension obligation. We only paid half of our required payment last year and face a staggering payment this year. Meanwhile large commercial tax appeals from prior years will drive down revenues as property values plummet.

It’s time to wake up. What has our Township Committee done in response to this? Layoffs? No. Shorter weeks? No. Forced professionals to take less money? No. Special meetings to discuss the looming financial crises? No. Consolidation? No. Reorganization? No. We haven’t even had a CFO for almost 8 months! Our 2008 audit found material problems. We ran out of money for health claims in 2008 to the tune of $1.4 million and had to push those payments into 2010. You can’t make this stuff up. We need to make hard choices and fast, or we will be facing substantial tax increases in 2010. I’ve proposed a finance committee at just about every meeting I’ve attended since my swearing in in January 2008. Large corporations have them, non-profits have them. It makes sense.

But I’m over that. I just want action. I don’t care what organizational structure produces that action. We need residents to swarm our meetings and demand change. I fully expect that the wave of conservative sentiment sweeping this Township and C0unty will escort me from my seat on the Township Committee this November. And my world will not end when that happens. But I will leave frustrated; frustrated that I could not effectively deliver my message to residents. Frustrated that I was unable to convince my fellow Committee members that our current system for delivering services is broken and that bold, courageous steps are necessary to protect our residents from additional taxes that they can ill afford.


Filed under budget deficit, consolidation of services, Cultural Arts Center, Middeltown Board of Education, Middletown, municipal tax rates, Sean F. Byrnes, Sewage Authority

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