Three months ago, a former deputy police chief in Union City helped spur Fox news to run a “Shame on You” TV segment about Union City Mayor Brian Stack’s ex-wife’s use of a city-supplied car for personal errands. The segment was embarrassing for both Stack and his wife. Mayor Stack has said that the former cop, Joseph Blaettler did it as “sour grapes” because he was passed over for the chief’s job.
But Blaettler, who is now a private investigator, claims there are problems with the Stack administration that need to be exposed.
Now, he has filed a lawsuit saying that he submitted the proper state forms to get public records from City Hall and has not received all of them. People seeking public information from a government entity in New Jersey can fill out an Open Public Records Act request and if the information is public, they should receive it in a week.
“We have a transparent administration.” – Mark Albiez
After the “Shame on You” segment aired in January, Stack, Everett, and Blaettler submitted letters to local newspapers in what quickly became a two-against-one scenario against Blaettler.
The law firm representing Blaettler, Caruso Smith Edell Picini in Fairfield, alleges that Union City routinely fails to comply with OPRA requests, citing the firm’s unanswered OPRA request in a separate case involving a police officer who felt he was treated unfairly by an alleged Stack campaign contributor.
But according to Union City spokesman Mark Albiez, that OPRA request was only recently submitted and information is in the process of being compiled.
“We have a transparent administration,” Albiez said. “The city does everything it can to ensure accurate information… [that] is disseminated as quickly and efficiently as possible.”
The man behind ‘Shame, Shame, Shame’
Blaettler was the deputy chief of police with the Union City Police Department for four years. He retired in December 2008 after 23 years of service.
A year later, he opened a full-service investigation and consulting business, East Coast Private Investigations.
According to Blaettler, he was hired by a private citizen and given information to investigate an instance of what the citizen perceived as waste and inefficiency by elected officials, namely, Mayor Stack (who is also a state senator). The information actually exposed Stack’s ex-wife. After Blaettler turned the information over to the U.S. Attorney’s Office and nothing appeared to be done, he submitted the case of Katia Stack to the media.
In response, Stack released a letter to constituents distancing himself from his ex-wife, although others say that they are still close.
Stack described Blaettler in a Feb. 16 letter to the editor to the Jersey Journal as “a former disgruntled employee who is suffering from a severe case of sour grapes.” He said Blaettler coveted the position of police chief, which ultimately went to Everett.
Stack, in his letter, urged Blaettler’s client to see the hypocrisy inherent in the investigation.
He proceeded to detail Blaettler’s compensation history with the city, referring to his salary, use of a police cruiser, $300,000 payout upon retirement, and $134,000 in annual pension payments.
“I challenge you to hold yourself to the same standards to which you proudly hold others,” Stack said to Blaettler.
But Blaettler maintains that his actions were legal, and that Stack’s summary of his compensation was unwarranted.
“[Stack] gave me the salary,” he said. “He’s the one that signed the contracts. He’s the one that never said ‘no.’ ”
According to Blaettler, Stack is a hypocrite for refusing to release records he had requested Jan. 18 regarding Everett’s compensation.
Specifically, Blaettler sought the payroll records and total yearly salary of Everett for 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010, and an overall salary breakdown that included off-duty details and details of any secondary job.
“[Stack] has no problem getting rid of working cops, while giving more and more perks and benefits to Everett,” Blaettler alleged, “At what point is enough is enough with Chief Everett?”
Blaettler filed a lawsuit in Hudson County Superior Court after the city failed to comply with his OPRA request within seven business days of receipt or provide a reason for withholding records.
Salaries of officials, as well as police and firefighters, are public information.
On Feb. 1, according to the suit, City Custodian of Records William Senande responded that “Corporation Counsel is still reviewing the response to the attached request for public records, and Corporation Counsel has advised me not to release any documents at this time in response to the request.” But he failed to detail a required reason for refusal.
On Feb. 14, the payroll records for three of the years requested, but not the additional information, were sent to Blaettler.
Albiez pointed to the “transparency” in the current administration, and chalked up “widely acknowledged disgruntled former employee” Blaettler’s actions as “[an attempt to] embarrass the administration because of his personal agenda.”
According to Albiez, Blaettler’s complaint could have been addressed through the state Government Records Council instead of through a lawsuit.
“It’s unfortunate that he continues to waste the city’s time and money on frivolous lawsuits and decides to resolve matters through expensive methods,” Albiez said.
OPRA and UC
According to Timothy Smith, the attorney, this is not the first case that Caruso Smith Edell Picini has seen in which Union City has denied OPRA requests.
They are also pursuing litigation in Hudson County Superior Court on behalf of Union City Police Officer Daniel Gonzalez against the Union City Police Department, the city of Union City, and Stack, in which Gonzalez questioned Biviano’s impartiality as the city’s hearing officer in a disciplinary matter involving Gonzalez and a motor vehicle accident in which he was involved last July.
According to the complaint, Biviano has contributed over $8,000 over the last several years to the campaign fund of Stack, which compelled Gonzalez to request, in late January, Biviano’s recusal in his case, to no avail.
“[A hearing officer is] required by law to be impartial,” said Smith, “[but he] can’t be impartial if he’s making contributions and, in return, received a job.”
Albiez could not confirm that Biviano was a campaign contributor.
While preparing litigation, the law firm submitted an OPRA request for records pertaining to Biviano, and according to Smith, received no response.
Albiez said the request is being processed.
How much are WNY taxpayers paying for sex suit settlement?
Recently, the town of West New York settled a pending sexual harassment lawsuit against Mayor Sal Vega, who is up for re-election.
At this time, the details of former Chief Financial Officer Darren Maloney’s suit remain unknown.
According to Town Clerk Carmela Riccie, there have been a couple OPRA requests for the information from various sources, including the Reporter, but the numbers can’t be divulged because it was “an oral settlement.”
The Reporter filed an OPRA request on March 9.
Within an hour, an e-mail was sent in response, stating: “With reference to the above referenced OPRA Request, please be advised that the Town of West New York has no documents responsive to your request, as the settlement in this matter was put on record before the Court by the attorneys for the MEL and Mr. Maloney.” – DC