Sweeney on Sunshine: Nothing to see here

State Sen. President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) was at the gaming summit in Atlantic City today, and he criticized the Republican administration for their secretive handling of the Hanson Report.

“No one knows how it was compiled,” Sweeney said.

But Sweeney himself is being accused of secret voting and closed-door deliberations as chairman of the Gloucester County Freeholders.

“They’re unfair criticisms,” he said of his county imbroglio. “We have attorneys; we follow their lead.”

A judge recently found that Sweeney’s freeholder board violated the Sunshine Law over 50 times in the last few years, and ordered a monitor to oversee the board, an unprecedented move statewide.

Is Sweeney embarrassed by the oversight, especially given his higher office? “Not at all,” he said.

The judge – who initially dismissed the charges – rung up the board upon review for violating the “spirit of the law,” Sweeney said, not the letter of the law. “We were following the law,” he said. “We were made an example of.”

Sweeney said that because of a “lack of clarity” in the Open Public Meetings Act, his board has found that several municipalities in their county may also be in violation, including some Republican bases.

The court battle over the OPMA violation was generated by David Burnett, a former county Republican committee director. Now Sweeney is saying that lawsuits will be flying back at the GOP.

“It appears there are clear violations in some of these towns,” he said, similar to the violations his board faces.
Aside from attempting to turn the tables on the GOP, Sweeney said his position as Senate president will allow him to reexamine and clarify the Sunshine Laws, “to fix (the law), not water (it) down,” he noted.

He said his board will be vindicated by the monitor, who he believes will find no flaws in the conduct of the board. Sweeney has said publicly that he would phase out the freeholder position to concentrate on Senate affairs, but a follow up call asking for a timeline was not returned by press time.

“Someone must be held accountable for this fiasco,” said Larry Wallace, Republican candidate for the Gloucester County Freeholder Board. “Either Mr. Sweeney and his colleagues got awful legal advice and it’s time to fire the county’s chief legal counsel or, as we have been saying for months, Mr. Sweeney is just flat-out incapable of handling both the Senate Presidency and his responsibilities as Freeholder Director.  If that’s the case, he should immediately resign his county post and stop short-changing the taxpayers of Gloucester County.”

Sweeney on Sunshine: Nothing to see here