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.
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.
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.
18 replies on “To: Bellmawr, From Your Facebook Blogger”
I wonder what a “Facebook blogger” is? I guess it shows how out of touch with technology some people can be. The only Anne Forline that I know is an accomplished (and respectable) journalist. What a shame to have been treated that way, Anne 🙁
Totally unprofessional. It would appear that this arrogant mayor has something to hide. Make no mistake about it … there is One that sees and knows what the wicked do in secret. Their evil deeds will be found out. The righteous have nothing hounding their heels.
This is good work you are doing. If they weren’t hiding anything, you would have been welcomed into the meeting. I wonder why they are being so defensive?
I salute you for being the only person from the public at the meeting. It shows your dedication to community involvement and commitment as a journalist. Citizens have a right to know what their elected officials are up to and how they are being represented. You’re onto something. Keep up the good work!
I’d also like to add that I’ve enjoyed Anne Forline’s professionalism as a journalist for many years. It’s clear the mayor’s disturbed by her presence – a reminder to him that she’s out to find the truth and will pursue it relentlessly as she keeps the borough citizens up to snuff. Personally, I believe the world needs more Anne Forlines.
If you are somehow under the impression that a ‘Facebook blogger’ cannot influence the good citizens of your town, let alone the entire world, you are very mistaken. The internet is a big, accessible place, and journalists can take all forms – in addition to working for traditional news outlets, such as newspapers. In fact, many brilliant, progressive, switched on journalists are choosing to diversify their careers by becoming freelance reporters, working for a variety of outlets.
— from a writer who is reading about your antics via Anne(the Facebook blogger)’s post, all the way in Australia.
What misguided and unprofessional behaviour from your public servants. The quality of your journalism is well known, Anne. And your reporting is read by many – far beyond the walls of that room! Karen, United Kingdom
How rude and ignorant. When public servants declare open war to journalists, you know that there’s something fishy with them. There should be an investigation on this man’s activities. And he should take some lessons about technology. Even if the reporter was a mere “Facebook blogger” (which she clearly is not) she does an important job in public misinformation. It’s just backward and distasteful to try to intimidate someone like that.
Anne, keep up the good work. If I may I’d like to offer an observation and a suggestion. In your article you mentioned that your purpose was to attend the Mayor / Council monthly caucus meeting which is normally held the week before the meeting in the court room. The caucus meeting must be advertised which it always is, but the pre-meeting you walked into must also be advertised as a Special Meeting in the papers of record voted on at reorganization if a quroum was present. A quroum is 2/3 of elected persons including the Mayor. So if there were 5 or more elected officials in that pre-meeting then check to see if it was advertised. Whether or not it was, you should have never been berated by the Mayor. And for those Councilman who were in attendance while he did this should be ashamed of themselves and embarrased for allowing the Mayor to go on an attempt to intimidate a member of the public. Let alone treat a lady this way. Please check to see if it was advertised if there was a quroum.
As a journalist, it’s our duty to report the truth and not take sides, and that’s exactly what Anne is doing. She’s excellent at what she does and deserves to be respected for it. It’s extremely distasteful for an elected official to be intimidating and belittling her like this. I support her and hope an apology is issued soon. – Sarita, a journalist based in India.
WOW!! I had no idea he was like that!?! It sounds like you were bullied! Bellmawr schools have a strong “no bullying” policy, so why doesn’t our mayor have that very same policy??
Bellmawr residents are lucky to have someone like you. A person who is dedicated to keeping them informed about what is happening in their community.
Mayor Filipek and Borough Council should also be thanking you for giving them another avenue to use (The South Jersey Observer) to inform the people they serve. They should be working with you, not against you.
Your reporting over the last decade has been right on. You report the facts. You don’t editorialize. In my opinion, the only agenda you have is the public’s right to know.
Sad to say, but newspapers are a dying breed. Ad revenue and subscribers continue to decline. In the last decade, hundreds of newspapers have closed their doors. As such some local governments think they can do whatever they want because no one is covering their meetings. They are happy that no one is watching them.
In my opinion, Mayor Filipek is doing everything he can to discourage you from attending council meetings. He and members of council don’t like the idea that you are writing about how they spend the public’s tax dollars.
Don’t let them discourage you, Anne. Keep up the good work. You are doing a great job.
William E. Cleary Sr.
Gloucester City News Publisher Emeritus
Camden County Record Publisher Emeritus
Keep up the good work and continue not to be intimidated by these weasels, Anne! It seems the mayor has no ethical foundation and constantly needs an attorney present to tell him what he can get away with.
I don’t understand why the people of Bellmawr vote this man in every year. I think they should have a time limit on how long you can hold office. I’ve only lived in Bellmawr for 28 years; but it seems he’s been in office for all of them. I am so glad you show just how arrogant he is. Keep up the good work.
Not suprised. Absolute worst mayor. This is why Mayor and Council need to be term-limited!
The people of bellmawr keep electing him and his crones. He needs to step down.They are all sneaky and please get rid of that Progress never stops. This town is becoming another camden
How does this post keep getting in?He has RUINED a WONDERFUL town I grew up in instead of the 3rd world country town with high taxes and nothing to show for it.He is a DISGUSTING human being.This journalist should take my brother Brian Genay from Leeds Ave with him to Bellmawr Borough meetings. Thank you for being a up standing caring citizen
I used to cover city council meetings and local politicians in Cincinnati, Ohio for an alternative newsweekly. I joked that I had two targets plastered on me at all times – one on my front thanks to the success of my paper’s coverage a poor police practices and one on my back for coverage of the childish antics of politicians.
The paper blew the whistle on illegal wiretapping by Cincinnati Bell and the Cincinnati Police Department (this gained national attention and the reporter won multiple journalism awards). It covered the facts about the way the CPD handled racial tensions in the city, to the detriment of the black community. And the paper closely watched the federal court monitoring of the CPD to overhaul policies and procedures after multiple charges of racial discrimination and police brutality. This made MANY in the city angry, and it made my job nearly impossible.
But I persisted and continued the tradition of making people angry because I exposed the BS none of the TV stations would cover. They only wanted the “feel good” and fun stories. But people who are elected to public office and work FOR the citizens of a community are accountable for their actions, all of their actions. When you treat people with disrespect and try to dodge the responsibility (that you agreed to when you took on the job), you will eventually have to deal with the consequences of your actions.
The only think Anne is doing is holding you accountable, so you have only yourself to blame for appearing to be as childish and unprofessional as you appear. I’d say “grow up,” but it won’t mean a thing until you stop blaming someone else for your inability to act like a professional.
More power to you, Anne! Your community will be a better place because of the crap you have to put up with to show them what’s happening when they aren’t looking.
Filipek has a history of talking to reporters like this…remember when the post office in the industrial park was on the chopping block to be closed and he hung up on them saying it was a prank phone call? What a joke.