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'Secret' Emails Contained 'Personal Opinions,' District Says

Parsippany resident appeals OPRA request denial for board member's electronic correspondences.

A citizen-activist's appeal of a Parsippany school district Open Public Records Act request hasn't been answered yet, but the process itself reveals a bit of the information he seeks.

In September, Robert Crawford, a former Board of Education member, made an official request to discover what was said in emails allegedly sent in 2011 and 2012 by school board member Anthony Mancuso and to whom they were sent.

Mancuso would not comment on the matter of the documents, which allegedly were sent from his personal email address, except to insist that they were personal communications. 

Crawford contended that the emails, which he believes include discussions of confidential board business between board members including Superintendent of Schools LeRoy Seitz, constituted an ethics violation.

After a series of delays, Interim Business Administrator Mark Resnick, serving as OPRA records custodian for the district, rejected Crawford's records request, saying that the emails were not government documents, and therefore not subject to the Open Public Records Act.

The denial led to a number of fiery debates at school board meetings, with member Michael Strumolo repeatedly demanding access to the emails.

The citizen-activist then filed an appeal with the state Government Records Council. 

As part of the GRC's investigation, the district was required to complete a document for the council's review.

According to Resnick's reply to the GRC, the three Mancuso-penned emails found that matched Crawford's request  "did not represent official business of the district but offered merely the personal opinions of the author."

The information contained in Mr. Mancuso's emails relayed his personal opinions as to the conduct of certain board members during a public meeting. Those opinions were unrelated to any vote or action being undertaken by the board. Pursuant to the GRC's determination in {previous, similar cases of law], when an email ins merely personal in nature, the fact that the communication is between individual who are employed by a public entity, does not covert that document into a 'public record' under N.J.S.A. 47:1A-1.1.

Resnick's reply went on to assert that "there was no violation of the Open Public Meetings Act as there was no quorum of board members to whom the emails were ever sent."

Crawford still awaits a determination on the nature of the emails by the GRC itself. He told Patch that he has asked the council to review the emails to determine if any recipients were blind copied so he can confirm to his satisfaction that the documents indeed were not sent to a quorum of board members.

The GRC informed Crawford that it does not have authority over OPMA issues.

Mancuso, who consistently has maintained that the emails were private communications and that his privacy is being invaded for the purpose of "intimidation," has said he is considering legal action.

David Comora December 17, 2012 at 01:45 PM
Bob, Can you send Natalie a better photo of yourself, perhaps with a smile? You always look sort of angry and spiteful in this photo, which doesn't do much for your cause. Every time you are up in arms about something, I see this photo and I think, "Wow, Bob's really pissed off about something!" Then I realize its the same photo. How about a nice holiday shot?
Darch December 17, 2012 at 01:48 PM
Really? Honestly stop already our town has bigger problems then this right now. I wish I had all this time on my hands. The school board needs to give it up and stop this pissing contest and start thinking about what they are supposed to be doing ... working for our children not acting like them.
Pete December 17, 2012 at 02:46 PM
Does anyone remember the Thomas Nast cartoon "They Fear the Light" ??
clyde donovan December 17, 2012 at 07:43 PM
School-board flunkies and lapdogs are smearing Crawford to discredit his attempt to make the emails public. His request to see the emails is vaild. I think a lot taxpayers want to know what's contained in those emails and the names of the recipients.
Sick of the trolls December 17, 2012 at 11:50 PM
Ah, here we go, right back to the shenanaigans, eh? Ok, "clyde", we all know you want to see the emails. You've made it abundantly clear. Just tell us your real name and we'll be happy to release them. Funny thing though, I don't see anyone smearing Mr. Crawford. I do see you spouting your usual hate and anger and whacked out conspiracy theories. Didn't I tell you to take that back to NJ.com where it belongs and leave the Patch to those of us in touch with reality? I will say this, with supporters like you, I sure don't think Mr. Crawford needs anyone to smear him in the public eye.
VietNam Vet December 27, 2012 at 06:18 AM
I happen to think that stopping the corruption on the board is school business, and would be a savings to the taxpayers in this town that really give a damn.

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