Plaintiff complains against the Defendants as follows:
1. This is a summary action brought pursuant to the New Jersey Open Public Records Act (OPRA), N.J.S.A. 47:1A-l.l et. seq. and the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA), N.J.S.A. 10:4- 7 et. seq. as enforced through the New Jersey Civil Rights Act (CRA), N.J.S.A. 10:6-1 et. seq.
2. Plaintiff Patrick Duff, sought government records from the Defendants.
3. a. Defendant Camden City is a New Jersey government entity located in Camden County and is subject to the Open Public Records Act and the Open Public Meetings Act.
b. Defendant Elena Guzman is a Camden City Municipal Clerk’s Office employee that
responded to the OPRA requests made by the Plaintiff and served as Camden City’s
Records Custodian for purposes of responding to the Plaintiff.
c. Glynn Jones is the Camden City Director of Finance with authority over Camden’s
Bureau of Grants Management.
d. Dr. Edward Williams is the Camden City Director of the Department of Planning &
4. Plaintiff is an amateur historian who unearthed evidence that Dr. Martin Luther King’s first act of civil disobedience may have been undertaken in Maple Shade, NJ. At the time, (not yet Dr.)King was attending seminary school in Upland, PA. In March of 2015 the plaintiff applied with the NJDEP to have the home placed on the NJ Historic Registry, and even though the process should only take 45 days, there is still no decision. Ex. 1 Ex. 2
5. In January of 2015, Plaintiff contacted the head historian on the Camden Historic Preservation Commission, Paul Schopp, to seek help in locating any information regarding King’s experiences in Southern NJ. In his response, speaking of the old cafe that the King was refused service, Schopp wrote “I made an 11th hour effort to save it, but the bulldozers won out. I was well aware of what that building meant to MLK’s career as an activist for civil rights.”. But at the same time he questioned the story of the property owner’s family, writing “I have heard the stories from the Hunts that he lived at 753 while attending Crozier Seminary, but I have also heard they recanted the accounts of MLK’s days in Camden.”. Ex. 3
6. In January and February of 2016, Plaintiff officially brought these circumstances to the attention of the civic leaders in Camden City by applying with the cities Historic Preservation Commission to have the home placed on the city’s historic registry, but the commission refused to give a response.
7. In July of 2016 the property owner, an 84 year old widow living on SSI, who has paid every dime of her taxes on time for the last 66 years of her life, received a demolition notice telling her she must tear down the home immediately. Frantic, she called the Plaintiff asking why they are doing this to her? After dozens of phone calls and emails, along with getting stories placed in the local papers, officials recanted and said the home was now safe, but the city still fined her for a bogus clean up that they never actually completed.
8. On August 4th of 2016 an email is sent from Doug McVarish of the NJDEP’s Historic Preservation Office, to Dr. Michelle McDonald of Stockton University, asking if any member of her faculty or any program students have “done research research concerning Martin Luther King’s years at Crozer?”. One of the members of the staff of Stockton, just happens to be Paul Schopp, who is also chief historian on the Camden Historical Commision. Ex. 4
9. On August 15th of 2016, Plaintiff also contacts Stockton University to offer his materials for the University to use at an expo called “Civil Rights in South Jersey”. On that same day, heavily redacted emails (garnered through separate OPRA requests) are sent back and forth between Stockton professors discussing how to handle the information offered to the University by Plaintiff, and also discussing communications the professors have already had with the Historic Preservation Office regarding this subject. Plaintiff has filed a separate case with the GRC to find out the contents of those emails. Ex. 5
10. On August 30th of 2016, almost a full month after the HPO is in contact with Stockton regarding the house in Camden, Kate Marcopul, Administrator of the NJ State Historic Preservation Office, sends an informal email with a request for proposals to several local universities professors, including Dr. Michelle McDonald of Stockton University. The only University to respond, and the one who was awarded the contract, was the one they had already been in prior contact with before the RFP was created, Stockton University. Out of almost 51,000 properties on the NJ Historic Registry, this is the only one ever scrutinized by such a study, which also cost the taxpayers $21,000. Ex. 6
11. On September 19th of 2016 the city of Camden closed off the street in front of the home and around 100 people gathered in an event to hear Congressperson John Lewis speak in front of the house. “The work Dr. King started decades ago is still unfinished. The property, which stands now as as a simple row home, can serve as a touchstone for generations to come as they learn about Dr. King and his deeds to make our country stronger and more inclusive,” said Lewis. The event was attended by most of the Camden city council members, the President of the NJ NAACP, the Mayor of Camden, and Congressperson Norcross, to name a few. Ex. 7
12. On September 20th of 2016, a heavily redacted email was sent from Dr. Sharon Musher to Professors John O’hara, Robert Gregg, Michelle McDonald, and Paul Schopp, who is not a Professor and only holds a AAS from Burlington County College. The contents of this email are unknown since the entire body of the email has been redacted, but it’s subject is “potential project”. Even though Stockton has its own African American History department, with several PhDs in the field, none of them are copied on this email about a “potential project” involving African American History. Ex. 8
13. September 22nd of 2016, Schopp replies and let’s the group know he has been keeping tabs on the unfolding project, and expressed his interest in being involved. Schopp also says that he has twice been in contact with Bob Craig of the Historic Preservation Office, but he fails to mention that he sits on Camden’s Historic Preservation Commission, which was an obvious conflict of interest, or that he already had doubts as to the validity of the story about the house in Camden, which would have shown he had a preconceived bias. Ex. 9
14. On October 13th of 2016 a meeting was set up by the office of Mayor Redd, who is also a board member of Cooper’s Ferry, between the Plaintiff, Cooper’s Ferry Officials, City Of Camden Officials, Officials from the Department of State, and official from Congressperson Norcross’s office, as well as the property owner of the home in question and Kelly Francis, who at that time was the President of the Camden NAACP. A verbal agreement was made with Cooper’s Ferry and the owner for CFP buy the home and stabilize it. The Plaintiff, who had become weary by now of the process, taped the meeting. Ex. 10
15. On October 26th of 2016, the Camden Historic Preservation Commission takes a public vote to place the home on the historic registry. Speakers included Mayor Dana Redd and Congressperson Donald Norcross. The event is celebrated in local papers as a big victory and it is alleged that the property was added to the historic registry of Camden, with headlines reading “Norcross announces historic designation of Camden’s MLK jr. home”, but for some unknown reason, it was not. E. 11
16. On November 4th of 2016, Stockton University sends in it’s proposal to the NJDEP, and even though Schopp only has an A.A.S from Burlington County College, and also had a major conflict of interest, Paul Schopp was chosen as the lead researcher on a state funded research project to determine the significance of the home in Camden and King’s experiences while staying there. Ex. 12
17. On January 12th of 2017 Cooper’s Ferry Partnership sent a letter to the property owner, care of Patrick Duff, stating that Cooper’s Ferry is “committed to complete the design, stabilization, construction and rehabilitation” of the home in question. The letter went on further to state that “CFP is committed to working with you and a designated steering committee to carry out this project. CFP will provide monthly status reports of all activity, including FUNDING APPLICATIONS/AWARDS and expenditures for the property”. Ex. 13
18. On January 30th of 2017, CFP made an application for CDBG funding on behalf of the MLK House without informing the Plaintiff or property owner, as was formally agreed to do. The application states that CFP will own the own 753 Walnut St. by Mid February of 2017, which never took place due to CFP backing out, yet they went ahead with the grant anyway. Ex. 14
19. On February 2nd of 2017 a partially signed contract of sale was delivered to CFP, along with a copy of the deed to 753 Walnut Street. On the same day a meeting is scheduled to enter the house to assess what would be needed, which takes place in mid-February. Ex. 15
20. On March 4th of 2017 stabilization plans were sent to CFP from architect, Jefferson Moon, no response is given from CFP. Ex. 16
21. On March 16th of 2017 an email was sent to CFP officials by the plaintiff asking if CFP is still moving forward with the project. CFP responds, saying they are still on board, but lists several new obstacles. One of which was getting funding, when at the time they knew they had already applied for CDBG money a month and a half previously without the plaintiff, nor the property owners, knowledge. Ex. 17
22. On April 3, 2017 The City of Camden held a yet to be advertised public meeting, with four separate departments, the bureau of grants management, finance department, division of planning and development, and the department of planning and development, regarding the MLK house and another 3.5 million in grants that were being sought. The plaintiff could not have known about the meeting, because the advertisement for the meeting were posted 2 days after the public meeting actually took place. HUD CFR 91.110 (2) states “Posting small print notices in the newspapers a few days before the hearing does not constitute adequate notice”., so I am sure that also means 2 days after the event takes place would also not be considered to be adequate notice. Ex. 18, Ex. 19
23. On April 12th of 2017, Plaintiff sends an email expressing his disgust in lack of communication and progress to CFP, stating “We either need to get this thing on the road, or part ways. Please let me know.”. On April 26th CFP responds saying that the former representative, Enrique Rivera, who was working with the plaintiff, is no longer with the organization. CFP also attempts to add ex post facto “concerns” that were never a part of the original agreement about the need now for a state designation, not just a local one, and also for the plaintiff to reach out to the King Center in Atlanta to get licensing to use Dr. King’s name. Neither of which were not a part of the original agreement. Ex. 20
24. On May 4, 2017 Camden held another public meeting regarding the CDB grants, but just like the April 3rd meeting, no minutes were taken, so knowing what took place would be impossible for the public to know anything about the original grant sought, or how the grant for the MLK House was increased from the requested $160,000, to $229,035.
25. On June 26th of 2017, HUD sent a letter to Glyn Jones telling Camden City they are not in compliance with timely expenditure requirements , and thus, Camden had amassed a balance in it’s line of credit of 2.47 times of what their grant balance should be. The letter requires a response within 30 days in the form of a Workout Plan or risk being sanctioned. Ex. 21
26. On June 29 of 2017, Plaintiff sends an Email to CFP official, Meishka Mitchell, and a staff member of Congressperson Norcross’s office, Mary Cruz, seeking clarification on why CFP changed the agreement and what they want to do moving forward. Like many emails sent by the plaintiff to CFP and the Congresspersons office, it went unanswered. Ex. 22
27. On August 21st of 2017, Stockton University turned in their preliminary report the the NJ HIstoric Preservation Office. Plaintiff had requested a copy and one has been refused. Ex. 23
28. On August 22nd of 2017, Paul Schopp, in the middle of a contract year, got a raise from making $46,465 for three consecutive years, to making $63,261, for the same exact position. ex. 24
29. On October 18th of 2017, Plaintiff contacted Camden’s ombudsman, Vincent Basara, to let him know that there is a hole in the roof and to ask the city for some help by at least putting a tarp over the hole so the damage doesn’t get worse during the winter. Basara tells plaintiff the city does not have the money to do it. A follow up email was sent by the plaintiff on October 20th stating “Did you see if you could find the money to put the tarp on? Also, were any grants ever approved or applied for regarding this project?”, again, like so many emails, no response was ever given. Ex. 25
30. October 24th of 2017, Plaintiff is contacted by a reporter from WHYY, April Saul, to seek comment on her newly found information that Cooper’s Ferry Partnership had been given $229,035 to rehabilitate the MLK House. In shock, especially after the city just said they had no money, not even for a tarp, Plaintiff immediately sends an email to Meishka Mitchell and Vincent Basara asking why they are applying for grants on a home they do not own, nor did they ever inform the plaintiff or property owner that they were applying for. Again, nobody from either the city or Cooper’s Ferry responds. Plaintiff also sent an OPRA request to the Camden County OPRA, seeking all resolutions, agreements, minutes, agendas and any communications regarding the grant for the MLK House, only to learn 7 days later Plaintiff made the request to the county OPRA, and instead it needed to make it go through the city email. Ex. 26
31. October 24th of 2017 an article is published by WHYY telling the public about the grants that were sought without the knowledge of the plaintiff. Plaintiff is quoted as saying ““CFP changed their story, breached a contract with the home owner, and said they couldn’t help anymore unless post-agreement conditions were met,” said Duff. “At the same time CFP was applying for grants, they were telling me they couldn’t move forward with the project, so where’s the money?”.
32. On November 2nd of 2017, Plaintiff made an OPRA request by fax, and on the 14th was asked for clarification. Plaintiff responded “Hello and thank you for all of your help. What I need is the Resolution by City Council Approving funds and the grant agreement between the city and Cooper’s Ferry Partnership for the “MLK House” located at 753 Walnut Street. I also am requesting to know what the status of the $229,035 that Cooper’s Ferry received? I am attaching a newspaper article from July of 2017 that shows the $229,035 being allocated. I also am requesting the communications between the city of Camden Officials and Cooper’s Ferry Partnership in regards to the MLK House.” The city responded a day later, saying “I have been advised that the requested application is internally under review by the City Administration, including with respect to its meeting the requirements of the subject grant funds. As such, there is no subrecipient agreement between the City of Camden and Cooper’s Ferry Partnership at this time. I have been advised by the City Law Department that as the requested application continues to be internally reviewed, any related inter-agency or intra-agency advisory, consultative or deliberative material, including related emails, are not accessible to the public at this time pursuant to law. “. Ex. 27, Ex. 28
33. On November 28th of 2017 Plaintiff sought a list of all historic properties in Camden and the city responded by providing a link that did not list the properties. Plaintiff sought clarification and asked “I am looking for proof that 753 Walnut Street is on the list, can you send something that shows that?”. The city responded “Our Department of Planning & Development has advised that they do not have information that shows the below subject address on said list.”. Ex. 29
34. On November 29, 2017, Plaintiff sought: “….the resolution approving the funds for the project listed as #2 of the 2017 annual action plan for CDBG funding of the “MLK House”. I am also requesting the grant agreement between the city of Camden and Cooper’s Ferry Partnership for the same grant listed as # 2 in the annual action plan. The grant is in the amount of $229,035. I am requesting the status of these funds and if any have been appropriated. I am also requesting the minutes of the planning meetings where the planning commission discussed grant #2 of the annual action plan.” In the series of follow up emails, the City still supplied none of the information requested. Instead, they said “ our Department of Finance has advised that they do not have a record of the referenced meeting held on 4-3-2017.”, when we now know that there was in fact a meeting on that date, and the Department of Finance was as one of four departments who were listed in the 4-5-2017 publication advertising the meeting, which by HUD regulation, was surely not adequate. Ex. 30
35. On November 30th of 2017, Stockton University turns in the biographical investigation to the NJDEP. (exhibit ) After reading it, Plaintiff is shocked to not only see so many historical errors, but PLaintiff is even more so shocked to learn that the investigation found that the first civil rights agitation that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had ever been involved with, was NOT HISTORICALLY SIGNIFICANT. Plaintiff immediately sent emails to both the NJDEP and Stockton officials pointing out the many mistakes in the report and questioning the findings, along with the fact their main researcher, Schopp, completely changed his opinion. Plaintiff told the research team that they also failed to interview an important living witness, who they claimed they could not get a hold of. Ex 31
36. On November 30th of 2017, Within 3 hours of the communication with Stockton, the Plaintiff secured the interview that the team of researchers failed to get within the year or more that they were paid $21,000 by the taxpayers to work on the so called, “investigation”, which included the team interviewing witnesses.
37. On December 6th of 2017, Plaintiff made an OPRA and sought “ the planning meeting minutes from 4-3-2017 scheduled from 3:30-5:00, as well as the agenda for the meeting. I am also requesting the planning meeting minutes from 5-4-2017 scheduled from 4:00-6:00, as well as the agenda for that meeting as well.”. None of these were supplied as well, not even the agendas. Ex. 32
38. On December 12th of 2017, Stockton releases the new version of the “investigation” to include the interview Stockton failed to get, as well as the corrections the Plaintiff pointed out, but it still finds King’s time in NJ to be insignificant. Ex. 33
39. On January 25th of 2018, Plaintiff, after learning that 753 Walnut Street was never added as a historic property, presents now for the fourth time to the commission. Plaintiff points out the conflict of Mr. Schopp, who conveniently was not present. Dr. Ed Williams makes a public statement that Schopp will be recused from now on for anything having to do with 753 Walnut Street. Ex. 34
40. In January of 2018, On behalf of the property owner, and with her written consent, Kelly Francis filed under the Fair Share Housing Center for the same $229,035 to repair the former home of Martin Luther King Jr., but the application has never received an answer from the city.
41. In January of 2018, Patrick Keating alleges that a private meeting is held between the Grants Management Department, the cities Business Administrator, the newly minted Mayor, Frank Moran, along with the Department of Finance, to finally discuss the “workout plan”, which was due a full six months earlier in July of 2017, in order to avoid sanctions. It is alleged that during this meeting the decision was made to transfer the funds from the MLK House to the fire department. (see defense affidavit of Patrick Keating line 5)
42. On February 12th of 2018, Plaintiff files suit in this instant case against the City of Camden.
43. One week later, On February 19th of 2018, on the Plaintiff’s 42nd birthday, Camden finally publishes a notice letting the public know that the dream the Plaintiff once had to save house, has ironically gone up in smoke by reallocating the very money meant to save it to the fire department. Ex. 35
44. On March 13th of 2018, On motion of Angel Fuentes, Camden City Council Officially transfers the money meant for the MLK House, and also a local park, to buy Turnout Gear for the fire department. Ex. 36
45. On April 11th of 2018, the President of the NJ NAACP sends a scathing letter to the new commissioner of the NJDEP, Katherine McCabe, along with the new Governor, Phil Murphy, telling the DEP that they “reject the very formation of such a study and their finding”. They go on to and “strongly urge” the DEP to “place the home in Camden on the NJ Historic Registry”. Ex. 37
46. Plaintiff’s OPRA requests were denied and/or responded to improperly.
47. The Open Public Meetings Act requires that minutes be taken/made for all public meetings.
48. The right of the Plaintiff and the public to have meeting minutes of public meetings is a
substantive right or privilege secured by the laws of this State, to wit, the Open Public Meetings
Act. This right/privilege was denied to the Plaintiff and the public by Defendant Jones’ and/or
Williams’ failure to properly oversee or govern the meetings in question or to instruct those
conducting the meetings on her behalf how properly orchestrate them.
49. The conduct of the Defendants violates the Open Public Records Act, the Open Public
Meetings Act and the New Jersey Civil Rights Act.
WHEREFORE, Plaintiff requests judgement as follows:
a. Compelling Defendants to respond to the Plaintiff’s OPRA requests and provide the records
requested, even if said response must occur by virtue of transforming other available
information about the meetings into a different form so as to create meeting minutes;
b. Compelling the Defendants to create meeting minutes by whatever means maybe lawful and
necessary under OPMA and the NJCRA;
c. Compelling the Defendants to prepare meeting minutes for all future public meetings and
enjoining the practice of not preparing meeting minutes if the public is not present or silent;
d. Awarding counsel fees and costs of suit; and
e. Awarding other such relief as may be fair, equitable and necessary