LETTER: Murphy must veto OPRA bill: ‘Cronyism & corruption thrive in darkness’


In a letter to the editor, former Bayonne Business Administrator Melissa Mathews urges Gov. Phil Murphy to veto the changes to the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) hastily approved by the state legislature.

Dear Governor Murphy,

I am writing to implore you to veto the current bill S-2930 before you regarding changes to the OPRA laws.

You may have heard the Bayonne City Council has expressed its interest in the expeditious passing of this law.

Like other proponents of this, the council cites dog licenses and the protection of personal information as one of the main reasons for this being in the best interest of the public.

However, the reality of the situation is this: Bayonne, of ALL places, is the shining example of why further degradation of transparency and these changes to OPRA laws should not happen.

The real aim of the new laws is to diminish citizens ability to understand what their government is doing, not protect their private information.

Transparency is the foundation of strong and effective democracies. It provides accountability through which residents can ensure their government is efficient, fair, and working for the greater good – not just themselves.

Local government, while often overlooked for state and national politics, is the most important place where we need citizens to be able to trust their government.

Local government is where most citizens primarily interact with any government agency. If you do not have trust and accountability in your local government, you see disenfranchisement.

Fewer people holding their representation to task, leads to further opportunities for corruption of officials and bad governance.

More corruption means hindered economic opportunity for citizens, lower social mobility, and the funneling of public resources for private gain, which furthers constituent disenfranchisement.

This triggers less voting and participation at the local level, which then progresses an moves to the state and national levels.

In New Jersey, we are already in the spiral of corruption from lack of oversight, lack of enforcement, and too much darkness. Some of which is about to play on the national level.

New Jersey is center stage for corruption with the trial of U.S. Senator Bob Menendez. Cronyism and corruption thrive in darkness and the goal should not be to turn out more lights.

The OPRA laws are the bright light the citizens have to shine on the dark corners of local government. Weakening them in any way will make the current status quo even worse.

It will further the ability of bad actors to use government resources to further their own interests at the personal gain of themselves and their friends.

While I do understand that OPRAs can be cumbersome to answer, I myself responded to them when I worked in planning and zoning in Bayonne.

OPRAs are critically necessary to citizen participation in their government. While there might be ways to make them less onerous for the local employees, this is not the answer.

This law will make it harder for people to see what their officials are really up to. I know this because I have used OPRAs to further bolster concerns I had previously expressed to authorities regarding the behavior I saw as business administrator in Bayonne.

Had this new law been in place, I would not have been able to access half of what I have provided to authorities as further evidence of questionable behavior.

I would not have been able to obtain countless emails showing how Bayonne City Hall has, in my opinion, mishandled private contracts, invoices, redevelopment deals, demolitions, civil service matters, and more.

This is just a small sample of what I have obtained via OPRA requests.

I used the OPRA laws to get supporting documents to further show the pattern of corruption that I knew was there. I am not a member of law enforcement or a lawyer, therefore, I am making no claim to the legality of what I found.

I am, however, saying what I have found is incredibly troubling and would not have been uncovered without access to official’s emails, calendars, and other documents that would be likely denied under this new law, if it passes.

I urge you, particularly since I have previously made your office aware of my concerns in Bayonne over the past couple of years, to veto this new OPRA law. Bayonne is not alone in its need for more not less transparency and accountability.

In a time when our democracy is at its most fragile, we should not be passing laws which will further weaken the few tools citizens have to hold their officials accountable.

Melissa Mathews
Former Bayonne Business Administrator


Editor’s note: Melissa Mathews has pending litigation against the City of Bayonne.

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  1. Despite all his weekly radio chatter, Murphy will not go down as one of the more honorable Governors in my lifetime; his handling of the Katie Brennan case and attempt to strong arm his wife into a Senate seat will be a big part of his legacy

    I am not counting on him to do the right thing here. Surprise us, Murph!