Common sense tells us it’s “news” and in the public interest if a local official lives 140 miles away from the municipality he serves. That’s especially true if the official in question is both an employee and a board member of a local authority. Charles Kratovil knows that. He is the editor of an online news site called New Brunswick Today.
While covering the city of New Brunswick, Kratovil discovered that Anthony A. Caputo, the city’s police director and a member of the city’s Parking Authority, lives in Cape May, which is more than a two-hour drive from his place of business. Talk about a tough commute.
Kratovil documented Caputo’s residence by making a public records request to Cape May County election officials. He then, according to a recently filed lawsuit, brought the matter up at a city council meeting where Kratovil mentioned the street on which Caputo lived, but not the actual house number. He did give the council documentation that identified the house number, but that was not made public.
Here’s where things get interesting.
The council thanked Kratovil for the information and said they would look into it.
The journalist received a “cease and desist” notice from Caputo. Here it is:
“On Wednesday, May 3, you published and/or announced my home address at a public meeting of the New Brunswick City Council. Kindly accept this letter (as) a written notice as required by the above referenced statute.
Pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:20-31.1 and N.J. S. A. 56:8-161.1 and as an authorized and otherwise covered person whose home address and unpublished home telephone number are not subject to disclosure, I hereby request that you cease the disclosure of such information and remove the protected information from the internet or where otherwise made available.
I trust you will be guided accordingly.”
Actually, Kratovil was guided to file suit against the city and Caputo and is being represented by the ACLU of New Jersey.
The legal foundation for the cease and desist notice is what is known as “Daniel’s Law.”
It is based on a truly tragic incident – the invasion of the New Jersey home of a judge and subsequent killing of her son, Daniel Anderl, in 2020.
In response, a law was signed prohibiting the home address and phone numbers of active and retired judges, prosecutors and members of law enforcement from being publicly disclosed. The goal, presumably, was to protect them from the likes of the deranged individual responsible for Daniel’s death.
Unfortunately, in the case at hand, the law is being used to protect a public official from the scrutiny his activities rightly deserve.
There are many reasons why a man holding two public jobs while living a great distance away should be asked to explain himself. As should his superiors, which in this case is the city council.
Just how is he doing his jobs?
Should he even be on the New Brunswick Parking Authority if he does not live in the city?
Who sanctioned this arrangement, assuming his bosses knew about it?
The suit by Kratovil alleges that Caputo does not normally attend council meetings, notwithstanding his status as a department head. Nor has he attended a parking authority meeting in person for almost two years, the suit says.
Clearly, Caputo and the city are using the law to do what many officials have done – or tried to do – for years, stop the press from reporting something that may make them look bad.
What’s problematic is that the new law gives them more ammunition to do that.
The suit asks the courts to stop the city from “using the law to prevent plaintiff’s reporting on a truthful, lawfully obtained matter of public concern.”
This litigation will run its course. A hearing is set for Aug. 11 in state Superior Court, New Brunswick.
The case already has been written about by various news outlets in New Jersey.
So if some New Brunswick officials wanted to keep this residency issue private, that effort has failed.
Be grateful for the irony.
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