Monday, October 24, 2011

Response to our Freeholder meeting proposal

I want to first say "Thank you" to the Freeholders for permitting us time during their Oct. 19th meeting to present some of what we have learned about homelessness.  This was the first time I can recall where we spoke to the whole board (minus one Freeholder who was on vacation.)

Following our 20-minute presentation about a dozen people spoke during the public portion of the meeting.  Freeholder Director Vicari was very gracious to all the speakers and showed them great respect.  With one lone exception all the comments supported the homeless and several supported enactment of the Homeless Trust Fund in Ocean County.  (See previous posts that detail the trust fund.)

We presented the homeless issue as a social justice issue, not a political issue, and had the support of many of the clergy in the area.  We sought to establish common ground between the county government and the supporters of the homeless.  Both the Freeholders and the activists are concerned about the well-being of all people in Ocean County.  Both groups need to identify to common areas and begin there.

We had a great mix of people (about 200, SRO) at the meeting., including the homeless, businessmen and women, the clergy, retirees and community service groups.

At the conclusion of our 20-minute presentation I asked the Freeholders for follow up meetings so that we could discuss further the issues the homeless face and discuss solutions to end homelessness in Ocean County.

I called the Freeholder's office Friday afternoon and was told:
The absent Freeholder would have to be briefed before a decision would be made;
The first Freeholder meeting after our Oct. 19th presentation will be this Wednesday, Oct. 26th at which time they will discuss ithe proposal with their attorney;
And  the attorney will recommend the Freeholders not discuss the homeless issue until pending litigation between the county and the homeless is resolved for fear that it would be used in the case.

I walked away from that decision still thankful for the opportunity to have presented our findings and looking forward to further discussions once the case was resolved.  But I also sought a second opinion about the Freeholders' decision.

I am certainly not an attorney and do not pretend to offer legal advice to anyone, including the Freeholders.  But I thought you might want to see what that second opinion said.

As I mentioned, there is absolutely no reason why the Freeholders cannot meet to talk about solutions to the problem of homelessness because of the Lakewood litigation.  To start with, by Court Rule, any such meeting, even if called a settlement meeting, could not be used against the county in any way.  The applicable court rule, New Jersey Rule of Evidence 408 provides as follows: 

When a claim is disputed as to validity or amount, evidence of statements or conduct by parties or their attorneys in settlement negotiations, with or without a mediator present, including offers of compromise or any payment in settlement of a related claim, shall not be admissible to prove liability for, or invalidity of, or amount of the disputed claim. Such evidence shall not be excluded when offered for another purpose; and evidence otherwise admissible shall not be excluded merely because it was disclosed during the settlement negotiations.

I still look forward to sitting down with the Freeholders for discussions to end Ocean County homelessness and hope we can do that very soon.  This has to be a collaborative effort and the first step is to talk.

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