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NJ Working Families Director Sue Altman. Photo by Nikita Biryukov for the New Jersey Globe.

NJ Working Families sues EDA over public records

Progressive group claims authority shielding Norcross-linked firms

By Nikita Biryukov, December 11 2019 12:23 pm

New Jersey Working Families sued the Economic Development Authority over repeated delays in its response to a request under the Open Public Records Act originally made on Aug. 15.

The progressive group sought emails between EDA staff and employees at Parker McCay, a law firm headed by the brother of South Jersey powerbroker George Norcross, and Optimus Partners, which is also owned by Philip Norcross.

The request has repeatedly been delayed since Working families filed it in August, the suit claims, and less than a third of the documents sought have been produced.

An earlier request filed by the group in July was denied for being overly broad. That request did not include a time frame for the emails, which is typically required in such requests made under OPRA.

The later request sought emails sent between Jan. 1, 2016, and July 1, 2019.

So far, the EDA has produced less than a third of the documents sought by the progressive group. In early November, the authority provided the progressive group with emails sent in 2016, and only those involving Parker McCay employees.

EDA slow to release documents

According to the suit, the EDA has brought in the two private firms to review its documents prior to their release to prevent leaking trade secrets.

Such an exemption exists under OPRA, though open government advocates have previously criticized it and other exemptions as being used as shields from transparency.

OPRA requires records requests be fulfilled within seven business days of their receipt, though the law allows for extensions, and many records custodians fail to abide by the statutory time limit.

The progressive group is asking a Mercer County Superior Court judge to order the EDA to release the documents.

Norcross-connected businesses received over $1 billion in tax incentives

Tax incentives administered by the EDA lie at the center of a feud between Gov. Phil Murphy, his progressive allies and the Norcross wing of the Democratic party.

Norcross-connected businesses have received tax incentives collectively worth more than $1 billion.

A task force convened by Murphy to investigate abuses of the EDA’s incentives has pointed to some Norcross-connected firms, including Cooper University Health System, where George Norcross is chairman of the board, as examples of abuses.

Norcross and his allies have consistently denied any wrongdoing.

“Bring these backroom deals to the light”

“The public has a right to know how Phil Norcross and his law firm influenced the implementation of a law that will cost taxpayers billions of dollars,” NJ Working families director Sue Altman said. “This law was drafted in secret to benefit powerful political power brokers. The best way to get to ensure the state government can never again be used as the personal piggy bank of the politically connected is to bring these backroom deals to the light.”

Verified Complaint and initial filing (1)
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