Planet Princeton

Some Princeton Governing Body Members Want Crackdown on Alleged Closed Session Press Leaks

Princeton Mayor Lempert broke a tie about closed sessions tonight.
Princeton Mayor Lempert broke a tie vote about closed sessions tonight.

The Princeton Council voted 4-3 not to hold a closed session tonight because some council members are concerned that some governing body members are leaking information from the private sessions to the press.

Mayor Liz Lempert, Council President Bernie Miller, Councilman Lance Liverman, and Councilwoman Heather Howard voted against a motion made by Councilman Patrick Simon to have a closed session to discuss professional contracts, recent AvalonBay litigation, and negotiations with Princeton University.

“We didn’t list a closed session tonight because nothing is pressing, and I’ve had more than one council member raise concerns with me that they felt uncomfortable continuing on with closed sessions at the present moment because we have a fiduciary responsibility. When confidentiality isn’t respected, we do risk that responsibility that we have.”

Lempert said some governing body members will attend the closed sessions but do not feel comfortable speaking because they are uncomfortable and feel the process of keeping things secret is not working. Miller agreed.

“I have great sympathy with Mr. Simon’s suggestion that we hold a closed session, but I’m concerned that not all of us sitting up here view closed sessions through the same lens. We don’t share the same understanding of what a closed session is,” Miller said. “I’m-reluctant to participate further in closed sessions until we all share the same understanding. We operate like board of directors of a corporation. There is an understanding either implied or specific that you follow. Part of the code is that when you discuss things in closed session, it remains privileged for only those who participate. Until we get to the point where we share that common understanding, I will have great difficulty going ahead with further closed sessions.”

Lempert said she has reached out to Bill Kearns, the lawyer for the League of Municipalities who also served as the lawyer for the consolidation  transition task force, and asked him to provide training to the governing body about closed sessions.

Councilwoman Jo Butler said understands closed session information is private. But she said she feels like the move to not hold closed sessions is going in the wrong direction. Town officials should push for more transparency, not less transparency, she said.

“And at our last meeting we all agreed we would not speak out of hand,” Councilwoman Jenny Crumiller said. “What more can we do, take a blood oath? we’ve all agreed  it is important not to reveal what happens in closed session. I would like to go into closed session tonight.”

Simon said he proposed session because all of the issues are timely.

“With respect to confidentiality, I’d simply remind my colleagues that the confidentiality of  closed sessions is not indefinite..It is supposed to be reported openly once the confidentiality need is no longer present. I understand the concerns raised by colleagues. But it is not a solution to not have closed sessions. We should work through the issue to the best of our ability.”

But Howard argued that closed session leaks could put the taxpayers at risk. “We have a fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers,” she said. “Negotiations could be jeopardized. Personnel issues could be disclosed and we could be at risk for lawsuits. The protection of the taxpayers has to be primary.”

The majority voted down holding a closed session, with Lempert breaking the council tie. Lempert said she would try to bring the lawyer in to consult with the council on closed session issues this month so that the council can have a closed session Oct. 28.

“There  is such discomfort among members of  the council about holding closed sessions, that I felt I need to respect that,” Lempert said.

Krystal Knapp

Krystal Knapp is the founding editor of Planet Princeton. She can be reached via email at editor AT planetprinceton.com. Send all letters to the editor and press releases to that email address.

  • Winston

    Princeton politicians are laughing stocks of the state…they ran for office on transparency and now they are conducting a witch hunt on members of their own party for being transparent!

  • Winston

    LOL LOL LOL LOL LOL (pointing at Princeton)

  • krystalknapp

    I think everyone sees that. The new government is dysfunctional. It’s like a mini Washington right now.

  • SFB

    Either way, there is an issue, because the Council are now putting off discussion of important matters because certain Council members believe there is a leaker among their number. If there is a leaker, that is a problem. If there is no leaker, but the Council members are so paranoid as to believe there is one, that is also a problem.

  • krystalknapp

    There could be a leak, or it could be paranoia. Several months back we wrote a story about the settlement with AvalonBay, and a hunt ensued to find out who the leak was. First council members were called, then residents. The info. didn’t come from a closed session at all though. It came from a different source altogether. There are lots of ways to get information. Township people are used to conducting town business one way, and Borough people another.

  • SFB

    That’s what I initially thought too, but if you watch the video, listening to what people are saying, and observe the obvious discomfort of certain Council members, it’s pretty clear that it’s one of the elected officials. I’m still not sure who though. It seems very likely that it was Bernie Miller who wanted to block closed session until the leaking is sorted out, so I think we can scratch him off the list.

  • TheObvious

    The leakers are most likely staff members in the room, Bruschi, Monzo, Schmierer, and McDermott.

  • krystalknapp

    Yes, The Onion could have lots of material here.

  • SFB

    I”ll have to watch the video. I’m confused at what’s going on at town hall these days. I thought it was extraordinary that Bruschi didn’t pull both guys into a room one right after the other, issue them their punishments, and then issue one clean press statement. I’m sure he doesn’t care, he just got a retroactive $10,000 raise. And as for refusing to discuss pressing Council business- this is just bringing the Council into disrepute. Other towns must be looking at us and laughing.

  • krystalknapp

    We are talking about different stories, and there were no “council leaks” involved in and those meter stories. There were a few more minor issues where people thought there were leaks. In some cases officials have assumed council members are leaking things when in fact there are other sources.

  • SFB

    I don’t understand the timeline then, because on Monday, Oct 7, the day the story broke about Boutote being fired, you wrote “The investigation was concluded last week. Bruschi will meet with the other parking meter enforcement employee, John Hughes, later this week.” It seems like the story broke *before* Bruschi met Hughes?

  • krystalknapp

    Bruschi met with Hughes and emailed reporters the next day.

  • SFB

    Actually, I don’t think what you say disproves my narrative. There is still a huge question why Bruschi sent out emails before he met with Hughes…surely he must have felt he had no choice, because somebody was threatening to run a story based on info they had got from a Council member?

  • SFB

    Gah! Just as I had it all figured out! Care to comment on who the ‘leaker’ is then??

  • krystalknapp

    Sorry but you are wrong. The emails were shared with the press directly by Bruschi. He was not available by phone because he was in California, so he emailed the press.

  • SFB

    It doesn’t seem like a massive stretch to assume that this issue has arisen because of the disorderly termination of our municipal parking attendant Chris Boutote last week. The press, starting with Jon Offredo at the Trenton Times, published last Monday, October 7, that Boutote was going to be fired but that his colleague John Hughes would keep his job but be re-assigned. Planet Princeton and the Packet followed up with stories the same day, citing email communication with town administrator Bob Bruschi.

    However, at that point, Bruschi had not yet met with John Hughes to discuss the outcome of the disciplinary action. It seems extraordinary that Bruschi would release information about an ongoing personnel matter unless his hand had been forced by the local media getting inside information about what was going on. As members of the public quite rightly asked questions about what on earth was going on, information dripped out, and it’s quite possible that John Hughes learned what was going to happen to him from reading online press stories instead of from his boss, Bob Bruschi.

    Somebody on Council probably thought that once Boutote had been fired, on the Monday morning, it was OK to let the press know. Council grandees would have been appalled, because the full sequence had not yet played out, especially regarding Hughes. Not only was the whole thing entirely unprofessional, but it exposes Princeton to a potential charge of constructive dismissal. As such, they would have felt compelled to make a strong statement about protecting sensitive information by going on strike last night. That’s my best guess at what’s going on anyway. Gotta love your Princeton.

  • Inspector Columbo

    Whats next, will Mayor Lempert create her own version of the NSA, spy on the press and prosecute leaks? This mayor and council are an embarrassment. To push secrecy in the name of protecting the taxpayers is laughable.

  • SFB

    That’s extraordinary…so half our Council went on strike because they’re so pissed about one of their colleagues briefing the press off the record? This is a new level of dysfunction. Does anyone have any leaks about who was doing the leaks? It must be common knowledge to have this kind of coordinated action by 4 Council members including the Mayor. Or is this just the first stage of lunacy to accompany the PILOT negotiations?

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