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Former Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe)

Ciattarelli OPRA requests seek pandemic documents

By Nikita Biryukov, February 25 2021 9:38 am

Republican Gubernatorial candidate Jack Ciattarelli filed Open Public Records Act requests seeing to force Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration to release communications tied to an executive order that required nursing homes to readmit and separate COVID-positive residents, he announced Thursday.

The former assemblyman is also seeking messages between Murphy and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and their staffs.

“Given what we now know about Governor Cuomo’s reprehensible and potentially illegal conduct, it’s critical that New Jerseyans — especially the loved ones of those who died in our nursing homes — know each and every detail about the conversations and communications between the two Governors and their Administrations related to this growing scandal,” said Ciattarelli.

Cuomo has faced some fire from Republicans in recent days after his administration adjusted upwards the number of deaths among New York’s nursing home residents. His administration’s count of long-term care center deaths initially did not include nursing home residents who died in hospitals.

The discrepancy is now the subject of a federal investigation.

Ciattarelli attacked state authorities too, charging Attorney General Gurbir Grewal had failed to do his job.

“Instead of living up to his constitutional responsibilities as the chief law enforcement officer and chief legal officer in New Jersey, Attorney General Grewal is acting like a partisan political operative whose primary focus is protecting his boss in an election year,” he said.

The Republican’s OPRA requests are unlikely to return any documents. Not long after New Jersey saw its first case of COVID-19 in March, the legislature approved a bill making it easier for public officials to deny access to records during the pandemic.

Some Democrats in the legislature have moved to strike those provisions in the time since, but the effort hasn’t gained much steam. It’s won even less ground, and that could continue to be the case until the state exits its public health emergency.

“By repeatedly extending the state of emergency and using executive orders to govern by fiat, Phil Murphy has arrogantly exploited a constitutional imbalance to exert far too much authority over the lives of everyday New Jerseyans,” Ciattarelli said. “To him, we are on a purely need-to-know basis.”

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