IRVINGTON, NJ — On March 31, the township of Irvington dropped the lawsuit it had filed against a resident for various reasons, including her filing more than 75 Open Public Records Act requests. The lawsuit was filed against Elouise McDaniel, 82, by the township and listed clerk Harold Wiener, who fulfills record requests as part of his job description, as a plaintiff.
McDaniel declined to comment in an interview with the Irvington Herald on March 31 and instead deferred to her attorney, CJ Griffin. In an email to the Herald on April 4, Griffin said the suit should never have been filed at all.
“We are glad that Irvington dismissed the case, but it shouldn’t take national press coverage and the ACLU stepping in for them to back down,” Griffin said. “This lawsuit never should have been filed in the first place — it was clearly an attempt to keep Ms. McDaniel from being civically engaged and ‘checking under the hood’ of her local government to make sure everything was operating correctly. Instead of treating civic engagement as a nuisance, towns should welcome the public’s desire to participate in government and improve their communities.”
The township sent the Herald 41 of McDaniel’s most recent OPRA requests after the newspaper filed its own OPRA request for this information; in them McDaniel requested information about the number of cases the rent leveling board has processed since July 1, 2014; the township’s payroll for 2017, 2018 and 2019; and all resolutions the Irvington Township Council members voted on involving the Irvington Housing Authority between July 2014 and January 2020.
McDaniel also asked for the job descriptions of several township officials. She asked for Councilman Orlander Glen Vick’s job title, description and qualifications; the name of the township’s health officer; and Public Works Director Jamel Holley’s daily work schedule, starting time and finishing time.
Other requests were made for information about the township’s status with the United States Conference of Mayors and the annual membership fee, in addition to requests for the names and locations of all the conferences Police Director Tracy Bowers attended in 2019, with expenditures.
Wiener declined to comment on active litigation in a phone interview with the Herald on March 30. Township attorney Ramon Rivera did not respond to a request for comment.
In a phone interview with the Herald on March 31, Mayor Tony Vauss said the lawsuit was filed for other reasons in addition to the large number of OPRA requests McDaniel submitted. The suit alleged that McDaniel has disturbed the peace at various township council meetings and was “otherwise acting in a confrontational and harassing manner; on Dec. 12, 2017, McDaniel pointed at a council member and said, ‘I’m going to get you, and you’re going to pay,’ while talking toward the council member.”
“Since on or about 2014 to the present date, (the) defendant has been engaging in filing at least approximately 20 frivolous letters and complaints with the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General, Office of the Governor, Essex County prosecutor, Office of the United States Attorney, municipal prosecutor, United States Senate and Department of Education, among others, containing false allegations of official misconduct, violations of ethics and defamatory personal attacks on the employees of the township of Irvington,” the lawsuit reads.
The decision to withdraw the complaint against McDaniel came because the administration doesn’t want the public to think they are not being transparent.
“We don’t want people to think we don’t want them to request information,” Vauss said. “We’re not trying to stop anyone from getting information. We don’t want people to think she hasn’t gotten what she wanted. She has.”
In a press release from the township on March 31, the administration said the town wanted to avoid unnecessary expenses related to continuing the lawsuit.
“The township’s goal is to devote its resources toward the improvement of the township. The township has always and will continue to provide responses to OPRA requests to the best of its ability,” the release read. “While the township does believe that there are valid claims, in the best interests of the township and its residents, all agreed to withdraw the litigation.”