(From another close banned park) The sign says: "Mountain Cycles are forbidden on Woodland Trails because of Soil Erosion!!" Good thing that large trucks are allowed on the trails since they do not cause erosion.
So in the spirit of truthfullness and post-gaming, I tried to found out what happened re Watchung. I wanted to be able to post or have a follow up to my most recent (July, 2017) Open Records Act Request regarding the developments with mountain biking in Watchung, leading up to the May 18, 2017 vote to kill planned bike trails. You know, the trails they had already approved and voted payment for to contractor CME. However, currently, I am unable to report much, even though it has been well over a month since the OPRA request was first filed on July 10th, 2017.
The reason for that is that Union County has requested numerous and sundry extensions, one after the other, oddly enough, for some of the more recent documents requested which would have been the most easy to find – you’d think.
Then, after they said they’d sent everything, they sent me an email that claimed they had “forgotten” some documents, so they were sending them. Oops. Sorry!
Oops indeed… the documents included redacted emails that I had been previously sent over a year ago, when I filed an OPRA request regarding the posting of new no bike signs. At the time the emails – which appeared to show unelected county employees debating on whether to arbitrarily increase the penalties for biking in the park (still think the ban on mountain biking is based on an ordinance passed by the freeholders?) were redacted for “deliberative/consultant” reasons. There actually is a legitimate OPRA exception for deliberative matters, or things still under consideration, however, since the county has been claiming since at least 2014 that the ban on mountain biking on the park trails is based on an old 1983 ordinance about roads, sidewalks, paths, and not blocking cars, one has to ask, 1) Why would it be “deliberative” over three decades later, since the penalty is in the alleged ordinance, even if said ordinance never specifically says anything about mountain biking, and 2) What are unelected employees – some of them county police officials – doing deciding their own penalties, independent of whatever law or ordinance they allege bans mountain biking said when enacted thirty years ago?
Beyond that, of course, is a third question: 3) Even if it was legitimate for these people to be making up their own penalties in a secret pow-wow some thirty odd years after the ordinance they say authorized a ban on mountain biking was enacted, and twenty odd years after county employees created the ban they said was justified by said ordinance, in a 1995 backroom meeting, one is still left with the burning question: Okay, by some stretch, suppose it was still deliberative in early summer of 2016. It is now over a year later, namely mid-August, 2017. The issue of mountain bike access appears to have been decided from the county’s perspective in the intervening time, by the May 18, 2017 vote to kill the trail plan, and their redoubled efforts to point to the ban policy from 1995, allegedly justified by an ordinance from 1983, and scream “na na, no biking”. So under what universe, it what possible reality, are these emails still deliberative over A YEAR LATER?
Well, no idea if they actually are. See, the county sent me the same image that they sent in 2016, with the exact same handwritten note in the corner about the redaction. It may in other words not be that they redacted the emails’ contents for this OPRA request; it may simply be that they sent whatever they had lying about, which would be the already-redacted copy that was redacted for “deliberative/consultant” matters – over a year ago, in 2016.
Is it still something that falls under that exception today? Did it ever?
No idea. The government has stalled further, refusing to send me either an explanation, or the non-redacted emails. Instead, I received the following, presumably after the close of normal county business hours (at 5:13pm.. did they use a delay function to further stall? Or was soneone actually working late at a government facility?):
“The main OPRA counsel is on vacation, so I have forwarded your email to her supervisor, who advised me that a reply should be rendered by August 22. Thank you for your anticipated cooperation and patience.”
I ran this by a lawyer I know, who stated the excessive delays probably violate OPRA law. The question is, 1, what to do about it, and 2, are they hiding something? Or just sloppy?
First, the county has several lawyers: An Executive County counsel, a first deputy county counsel, and a second deputy county counsel. Why could they not have just asked one of them? They can’t all be on vacation at the same time! Moreover, I sent this email before business hours last Monday, prior to 7am; why did they wait over a week to respond? If all they wanted to tell me was the lawyer was out of town, they could have done that the day I sent the email. Yes, they typically get a week to answer an OPRA request – but the OPRA request was from July, and that is the point – they still have not answered it fully.
Like everything else about the county’s anti-mountain bike policy, the more you find out, the more you realize there is something fishy here, and it isn’t Seeley’s Pond.
A $30 fine according to the ordinance they say is about mtb. But according to another unrelated ordinance about archaic registration requirements (which they have represented as being part of the mtb ban itself even though it is a separate rule, just like the bike rental regs in the county code... as in that no mtb flier they put up, they only quote the "roads, sidewalks, paths, not blocking cars" ordinance they say is about mtb, but then they threaten confiscation, which is not part of that...) they also threaten confiscation. No idea how that works. And of course it is not uniformly enforced because if it was no one could bike on a county road, like, my towns main street...
Preachin to da choir Gock...
I been supportin them since I joined, and I know many others on the site have as well.
though as a sidenote, not sure what trails you mean... I don't have facebook so haven't seen any recent updates but would appreciate a pm on that if there's any good news, dude, as I know the local chapter was said to be working on something.
Lonerider, thanks for your diligence. It certainly is possible something is/was fishy to cause the reversal of fortune on Watchung. That said, we (JORBA UC Chapter) are trying to look forward rather than backward with a clear goal of achieving legal MTB trails in the County ASAP. I was recently informed by Freeholder Chair Bergen that the County is internally evaluating alternative sites for MTB trails. They have not yet involved us (JORBA) in the process, but we will continue to push them to solicit stakeholder (JORBA, local Mayors, neighbors, etc.) input and dialogue ASAP. We need to avoid the mistakes that killed Watchung this time around. We will keep you updated on any progress. In the meantime, join the Facebook UC JORBA group. That will be our "official" hub for updates. https://www.facebook.com/groups/824894184330236/