THE LABROSSE/CANESTRINO “GOAL”
As a candidate for City Council four years ago with the Labrosse Team, Kathleen Canestrino announced that their “goal is to create an open and honest government.” Let’s look at the record to see how successful they were.
OPEN PUBLIC RECORDS ACT VIOLATIONS
Within months of taking office, the Labrosse Team was sued by a resident for illegally charging $450 to fulfill a simple OPRA (Open Public Records Act) request for copies of legal bills. Although state law clearly requires immediate access to bills upon request, Mayor Labrosse proclaimed that the City had a “right” to charge for it, leading many to believe that he was trying to prevent residents from obtaining that type of information. His intent was confirmed when Judge Robert Contillo determined that Labrosse’s policy would have the “inevitable effect of restricting access to public records.” Contillo ruled that the fee was “unauthorized under OPRA, and improper,” and ordered the City to pay the resident’s legal fees. That simple request which should have cost about $15 in photocopying fees ended up costing Hackensack taxpayers more than $20,000 in legal fees as a result of Mayor Labrosse trying to block disclosure of that information.
LIMITING PUBLIC PARTICIPATION AT CITY COUNCIL MEETINGS
In their campaign literature four years ago, the Labrosse/Canestrino Team promised that “Citizens will be encouraged to bring their concerns and criticisms to the council.” In direct contrast to that promise, they then took action to prevent attendance at City Council meetings and to limit criticism at those meetings.
During their second year in office, the Labrosse Team enacted an ordinance limiting public participation at City Council meetings. Provisions of the ordinance prevented more than one person from speaking on a particular topic and prevented residents from asking questions to City Council members. It is hard to imagine an “open” government in which the public is not allowed to question elected officials at a public meeting.
Another tactic of the the Labrosse Team to limit public participation at City Council meetings was to schedule them at 8:30 AM when few members of the public could attend. When that strategy failed and residents still showed up at the morning meetings, Mayor Labrosse decided to schedule them at 8 AM and to disregard the public notice requirement. When a determined resident showed up and challenged an illegal 8 AM meeting, the City Attorney admitted that Labrosse had violated the Open Public Meetings Act. The illegal meeting was then cancelled.
After it became apparent that holding morning meetings could not prevent public attendance and the scrutiny that comes with transparency, the Labrosse/Canestrino Team decided to simply eliminate 50% of the public meetings, despite a state law requiring two meetings be held each month. When a resident challenged that action in court, the City Council was forced to return to two meetings each month. But in true Labrosse Team fashion, the City Attorney announced that they would lobby the New Jersey legislature to change state law to permit Hackensack to reduce the number of public meetings.
Among the most obvious traits of a corrupt political machine are their attempts to limit public participation in government and to block access to government records. So if the Labrosse/Canestrino Team goal was “to create an open and honest government,” we’re guessing that they have a very different definition of “open” government than virtually every other Hackensack resident.