POINT PLEASANT BEACH – A critic of Mayor Stephen Reid (R) has filed suit against the borough this week, challenging redactions to the mayor’s emails provided in response to a public records request, claiming they’re preventing the public from knowing the how the mayor is “mingling his government business with his lobbying activities.”
At issue in the case is the extent to which Mayor Reid, who serves as the executive director of the New Jersey Responsible Approaches to Marijuana Policy (RAMP) group, is mixing his lobbying activities in opposition to marijuana legalization with his official duties as the mayor of the shore town.
The lawsuit’s plaintiff, south Jersey independent journalist and activist Patrick Duff, wants Ocean County Assignment Judge Marlene Lynch Ford to rule that borough officials violated the state’s Open Public Records Act (OPRA) by redacting email addresses that corresponded with Reid’s borough email account.
The public records dispute comes amid Duff probing potential conflicts of interest in connection with Reid’s role as both the borough’s mayor and as a lobbyist opposing medical and recreational marijuana.
“Reid’s dual role of Mayor of Point Pleasant Beach and paid lobbyist of NJ RAMP poses a serious conflict of interest,” Duff’s attorney CJ Griffin, Esq. wrote in a court filing. (Editor’s note: Griffin also has represented this reporter in multiple cases)
“In furtherance of his investigation, Plaintiff filed OPRA requests for emails from Point Pleasant Beach relating to Reid and his marijuana activities. In response, Point Pleasant Beach produced volumes of emails in which the email addresses are redacted,” Griffin wrote in court filings.
“Often, an email will be sent to Reid at his government account and another redacted account is copied, or Reid will send material from NJ RAMP from a redacted email account to his government account or the clerk’s address,” according to Griffin.
“Plaintiff seeks to have those redactions removed, as they prohibit him from learning whether the emails are coming from Reid’s lobbying firm address, NJ RAMP address, or some other address. The redactions prohibit Plaintiff and the public from learning the extent to which Reid is mingling his government business with his lobbying activities.”
Duff’s OPRA lawsuit is the latest salvo in the ongoing battle between Mayor Reid, a 10th district state assembly hopeful and staunch marijuana legalization opponent, and pro-marijuana legalization activists. In December, Duff published a video that accused Reid of breaking state ethics laws by failing to disclose paid work done for NJ RAMP on his 2018 financial disclosure form.
“What is illegal though is being a paid lobbyist and not disclosing it on your financial disclosure statement you file every year with the state, as it looks like Reid has done,” Duff wrote in a December, 2018 blog post. “Banning dispensaries in your town while you are working for an anti-legalization group proves that you are promoting the agenda of the organization you are being paid to represent and is in direct violation of NJ ethics laws.”
The OPRA case is currently before Assignment Judge Ford. If Duff prevails in court, the borough will be compelled to disclose the email addresses that corresponded with the mayor’s official account, which will likely shed light on any potential interplay between Reid’s lobbying and role as the borough’s mayor. Point Pleasant Beach officials are expected to file court papers opposing the suit and justifying the redactions on personal privacy grounds.