Christie Administration, Rutgers University Won't Say What Rutgers Professor Was Paid State Funds to Do, How He Found That Some Towns Should Have Lower Housing Obligations
Trenton, NJ - In a lawsuit filed today in the Law Division of New Jersey Superior Court in Mercer County, Fair Share Housing Center is suing to get access to two critical documents on the Christie Administration's proposed new fair housing rules that the Administration has refused to disclose. First, the lawsuit seeks a contract between the Attorney General's office and a Rutgers professor, Robert Burchell Ph.D. related to Dr. Burchell's work in preparing Third Round regulations proposed by the Council on Affordable Housing (COAH). The lawsuit also seeks access to a spreadsheet prepared by Dr. Burchell that the state is either hiding or has lost that eliminates 8000 homes from the statewide housing need without explaining the basis for those reductions.
The defendants in the Open Public Records Act lawsuit include the Division of Law, which is in the Attorney General's Office; Rutgers University; Dr. Burchell; and COAH. The lawsuit arises after COAH revealed on April 30, 2014 that Dr. Burchell had prepared a proposed approach for allocating fair share obligations to municipalities. Although the state agreed to pay Dr. Burchell and Rutgers $295,000, it has refused to disclose parts of the contract revealing specifically what work Dr. Burchell was asked to do.
Rutgers and COAH have also violated OPRA by refusing to provide data related to the rule proposal, specifically a spreadsheet that would reveal a mystifying process in which a requirement to provide 8000 homes, many of which exist already, for the period 1987-1999 were eliminated. COAH and Rutgers failed to provide public records to explain why towns such as Princeton and Franklin Lakes retroactively received lower housing obligations.
"Rutgers, COAH and the Attorney General's office are hiding documents that the public is entitled to see," said Kevin Walsh, the FSHC attorney who filed the lawsuit. "When the state spends our money, it shouldn't hide the receipt. The assertion that the public cannot see how our tax dollars are spent and the basis for the Christie Administration's decisions should concern anyone who cares about good government."
"Especially after Hurricane Sandy, people need decent homes that won't break the bank to buy," Walsh added. "The unprecedented secrecy and total lack of justification for drastically reducing fair housing requirements is another indication that Governor Christie could care less about working families."
The lawsuit requests the Superior Court to resolve the matter within 30 days. The complaint and accompanying papers are available here.