HOPATCONG — County officials continue to investigate an incident that occurred at a recent Hopatcong Borough Council meeting during which a resident’s text messages were shared.


The profanity-laced text messages were part of a private conversation between resident Christopher Vincent and an unidentified friend on Feb. 8.


Councilman Bradley Hoferkamp distributed copies of the messages at the Feb. 19 council meeting. In them, Vincent shared a screenshot of a message he received from a fake Facebook profile threatening Vincent’s father’s livelihood if Vincent attended the Feb. 19 council meeting. Vincent, who ended up not attending that meeting, vented in a graphic manner in his messages about the unknown individual behind the bogus Facebook account.


Vincent, who had a negative exchange with Councilwoman Dawn Roberts at the council’s Feb. 5 meeting, also wrote derogatory statements about her and what he would have liked to say to Roberts at the Feb. 19 meeting, adding that he believed he would not be permitted to speak.


Hoferkamp proposed that Vincent should be deemed “persona non grata” at the Feb. 19 and future meetings. In addition to passing out copies of the text messages to the audience, Hoferkamp said that the council was seeking a no-contact order based on the nature of Vincent’s texts about Roberts.


First Assistant Prosecutor Gregory Mueller of the Sussex County Prosecutor’s Office said the Prosecutor’s Office reviewed Vincent’s text exchange and said it did not rise to the level of any criminal actions.


However, the investigation remains ongoing, Mueller said. “As part of our review, we are reviewing the conduct of individuals in the meeting (on Feb. 19),” Mueller said.


According to Hopatcong Borough Attorney John Ursin, in certain cases individuals could be banned from council meetings, though it would require a government action and court order. Ursin, who confirmed the issue remains under review with law enforcement, said Friday, no judge has issued a court action on the matter pertaining to Vincent, nor had the council taken a vote on the matter. He said the council was holding off on taking action pending the review by law enforcement. Ursin also said the council could take action only while in session, with its next meeting tonight.


Ursin, who was not present at the Feb. 19 meeting, defended Hoferkamp’s discussion of the text messages, stating Hoferkamp was expressing his opinion about them. Ursin did not deem the distribution of the messages as inappropriate, because, although he was not sure of the source of the texts, they were reportedly passed to Hoferkamp after one of the parties of the conversation consented to release them. Ursin said that Vincent’s conduct at the Feb. 5 meeting, at which Ursin was present, did not follow decorum expected of the public at meetings, with Vincent calling out from his seat after leaving the podium. He said that Vincent would be able to speak at meetings, as long as he follows the rules expected of the public.


Hoferkamp was additionally critical of other individuals at the Feb. 19 meeting, claiming a few of them have subjected the council to “baseless verbal attacks” and saying the audience included “known sex offenders and other lawbreakers.” He also called Vincent “a known criminal,” referencing charges against him from 2017.


Open Public Meetings Act provisions


According to provisions of the Open Public Meetings Act, N.J.S.A. 10:4-12, a government body may not exclude members of the public from meetings, except during particular subject matter discussions. However, the act does not “limit the discretion of a public body to permit, prohibit or regulate the active participation of the public at any meeting.”


Ursin said the Open Public Meetings Act is designed with transparency in mind, with closed executive session meetings taking place only for certain matters, such as negotiations and discussions of attorney-client privilege. He said that Hopatcong enters into closed session less than most municipalities, in order to maintain transparency.


Perspective from open government advocacy project chair


When consulted Friday, John Paff, the New Jersey Libertarian Party’s Open Government Advocacy Project Chairman said the Open Public Meetings Act prevents individuals from being excluded at public meetings. During an interview with the New Jersey Herald, Paff, who commented only generally, also said that a constitutional dimension can be involved in these types of cases in which a member of the public is not permitted to speak.


Cases within other government entities


One known Sussex County case of a governing body successfully granted a court order against a resident began in the early 2000s in the case of former Stanhope resident Thomas Caggiano and the Borough of Stanhope. Stanhope officials were granted a restraining order that prevented Caggiano from contacting them, after officials alleged Caggiano harassed them and made threats against them. He was barred in 2008 from entering the Stanhope Municipal Building, although not barred from attending public meetings; and could only attend meetings when a police officer was present.


Restraining orders were later issued against Caggiano for his contacts and excessive records requests with Green Township, the Sussex County Board of Chosen Freeholders and the Sussex County Sheriff’s Office.


Jennifer Jean Miller can also be reached by phone at: 973-383-1230; on Facebook: www.Facebook.com/JMillerNJH and on Twitter: www.twitter.com/JMillerNJH.