Dear Residents of Bellmawr:
Tonight, the monthly mayor and council caucus meeting was at 5:00 p.m. at the Borough Hall.
I arrived at the Borough Hall at about 4:50 p.m. and walked into the conference room where it appeared that a meeting of some sort was already in progress.
Almost immediately after I walked into the conference room, Mayor Frank Filipek called out to me: “We don’t start until 5:00 p.m.”
Because there were councilmen and other people in the room and the door was open, I asked: “Are you in Executive Session?”
Filipek responded: “We are meeting with our accountant, not that I have to explain anything to you. We will tell you when we are finished.”
So I went out into the hall to wait until Filipek granted me access to the meeting.
No one else from the public was there.
After a few minutes, I was told by one of the meeting attendees, that it was ok for me to come in.
As soon as I sat down, Filipek called out to me again: “Are you recording this meeting?”
I started to respond: “It is a public meeting. I have the right to record…” when he cut me off again.
“Are private citizens allowed to record?” he asked.
I responded by asking if he had consulted with the solicitor, Robert Messick, who was seated right next to him.
I added: “As a reporter….”
Filipek interrupted me by saying: “You are not a reporter. You are a blogger on Facebook.”
I then asked him if he had a problem with me being here.
He then said that at the last council meeting, all of his words were “up there, word for word.”
(Note: I believe Filipek was referring to my February 28, 2016 article, which can be read here.)
The meeting then proceeded. However, from the time when I entered the room to when I sat down, there was no flag salute. I did not hear a “Sunshine Statement” read aloud that indicated that the meeting was being held in accordance with the Open Public Meetings Act.
(Note: The Borough of Bellmawr is being sued for Open Public Meetings violations.)
At about 6:12 p.m., someone said that there would be an Executive Session.
After passing a Resolution to go into Executive, I asked Borough Administrator, Josh Tregear, for what purpose the council was going into Executive Session.
He responded that he was not a councilman anymore.
I added that I was asking him because Borough Clerk, Chuck Sauter, was not in attendance (and neither was Council President, Steve Sauter).
Tregear responded that the Executive Session was for personnel and negotiations.
I asked how long the Executive Session would last.
Tregear responded he didn’t know, maybe 30 minutes.
I asked if action would be taken following the Executive Session and Tregear responded that he did not know.
I stated that I would wait out in the hall where I sat on the steps of the Borough Hall until about 7:25 p.m. when Councilman Paul Sandrock came to tell me that the Executive Session was over.
My view from the steps in Borough Hall where I waited to be told that the Executive Session was over.
When I went back into the room, Filipek addressed me: “Miss, did you have any questions?”
I asked if there was a vote to come out of the Executive session.
Filipek responded that there was. I asked if any actions were taken and I was told there were not.
I stood up to leave and I asked Josh Tregear if he had a copy of the meeting agenda, which he did provide.
I wanted to bring to the public’s attention that this is the second time that the mayor has berated me.
I recently filed an OPRA request seeking information about the parking lot project at Larc School. Council passed a Resolution at the October, 2015 meeting that authorized Remingon & Vernick to prepare the necessary plans and drawings for the parking lot at Larc School.
Screengrab from the October, 2015 Agenda
I requested additional information because, as passed, there is no budgeted amount for the project and I wanted to know why the Borough of Bellmawr was paying for these plans when Larc School is owned by Camden County.
Filipek called me on the phone about the OPRA request and almost immediately began to yell at me. He told me that if I wrote about this, then he would “tell everyone that [I] am against the kids.”
Before he hung up, he told me that I had an agenda.
I told him he was right, that I did have an agenda. And that is to the taxpayers to show them how their elected officials are voting and to show them how their tax money is being spent.
I wanted to inform the residents of Bellmawr how their elected official spoke to me, a reporter, yes, a reporter during an open meeting.
I also wanted to share my credentials for being a “reporter.” They include writing for the local weekly, the Gloucester City News, for ten years. I have also had bylines appear locally and nationally. I also have a B.A., and two professional certifications.
For the mayor to talk to me, a member of the media, in that manner is wrong, unprofessional, and completely unbecoming of an elected official.
Mayor Filipek: If you happen to be reading this blog on Facebook, you owe me and the citizens of Bellmawr an apology for your behavior.
*Note, the story about the Larc School is developing. I am in the process of waiting for additional information from the Borough. They will update me and provide me with information when it is received because the project is involved. Last week, Chuck Sauter confirmed in an email and via telephone that Bellmawr would be reimbursed for these plans.