By PETE WALTON
A Bradley Beach borough councilman says he and three of his colleagues have been targeted by an anonymous person taking advantage of a state freedom of information law.
Former Council President Al Gubitosi says the borough itself and four of the five members of the governing body, including Mayor Larry Fox, have been hit with numerous requests for documents.
“The [state’s] Open Public Records Act (OPRA) allows the public to access public records by simply filling out a form and making a request for documents including e-mails, handwritten notes [and] text messages on virtually any topic related to the public,” the councilman said. “This provides a critical right for the public, and there are clear rules that the council must follow to respond to these requests.
“Unfortunately, there are individuals that from time to time, try to manipulate the process,” Gubitosi explained. “Sometimes, these individuals systematically file requests, spanning many municipalities, typically looking for opportunities to sue municipalities for non-compliance with laws or for errors made.”
Borough Attorney Greg Cannon said the anonymous requests are not illegal.
“This is allowable under the law,” Gubitosi said, “but I would have much greater respect for someone who is not hiding behind an alias.
Gubitosi explained that all documents requested under the Open Public Records Act must be compiled by or relayed to Municipal Clerk Erica Kostyz.
“Our clerk must then share this documentation with the borough’s OPRA attorney who reviews each document for possible redactions of confidential information,” the councilman said. “Each review by our attorney could span hundreds of pages. It is likely that legal fees for reviewing the borough’s responses total thousands of dollars.”
Gubitosi said the anonymous requester filed a “harassing OPRA request” against Councilman Randy Bonnell, trying to determine what Bonnell knew about the e-mail account used to make the request.
“This person filed an OPRA request against me to learn about my communications with our first aid department leaders, literally within three hours of completing my meeting with [them],” Gubitosi said.
Also at this week’s meeting of the Borough Council, the mayor said the engineering firm of T&M Associates of Middletown is still on track to deliver a report in the next two weeks on the borough-owned First United Methodist Church on LaReine Avenue.
The building, which was declared last week as one of the 10 most endangered historic places in the state by a preservation advocacy group, was built in 1900 and purchased by the borough in 2020 from the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association.
A group called Friends of the Bradley Beach Community Center is raising funds in an effort to help renovate the former church for public use.
Councilman John Weber said he would vote against or not cast a vote on important matters brought before the governing body without sufficient time to review them.
Weber cited a vote after a late-night closed council session earlier this month when a borough auditor was not reappointed.
Council President Tim Sexsmith said that the subject of a hybrid system for the public to participate in meetings either in-person or electronically would come before the council at its next scheduled meeting on June 14.
Mayor Fox said an amended municipal budget for 2022 would also be considered at the mid-June meeting.
The council learned in a memo from Fox and Borough Administrator Kim Humphrey that Elizabeth Hernandez has resigned as recreation director and grants coordinator effective May 24.
Courtney Pappas became full-time recreation coordinator and after school care director as of May 16.