I was reading through the article and noticed that some detail on what reports are asked for by the Borough Council. The article mentions the (1) number of calls received, (2) the membership, and (3) the finances. One and two are innocuous and, I presume, are just repeats of reports already sent to the NJ state or county authorities governing volunteer fire companies. If the membership list contains sensitive information like license or social security numbers, it should be redacted. Public records, and these would be public records under the OPRA statutes, should not contain sensitive information about individuals.
Three is the request that raises red flags for me. Volunteer organizations like cemeteries, libraries, fire companies, and ambulance services all report financial information to the state yearly. In the case of the cemetery, the report does not look at operating funds but the maintenance and preservation money set aside in case the cemetery fails and the state has to step in and do minimal upkeep. In the case of a fire company, it is the funds used to as a type of insurance when an exempt fireman dies. I don't know the exact definition of an exempt fireman is, but it does involve approval from the Borough Council to complete the application. Again, there is not a report of funds used in daily operation. Those reports are made at least yearly to the membership of the organization. So, if the Borough Council wants a copy of what is reported to the state, that should not be a burden except any personal, sensitive information should be redacted on the Borough's copy.
However, reading the following quote makes me think the Borough actually wants to control the day-to-day finances in order to divert donated funds to pay for other Borough costs, possibly related to fires and possibly not.
The borough has planned to start an inventory of the building on Wednesday night to go over everything inside the building.
Sullivan said the borough owns the trucks and the building. They pay for the gas, insurance and equipment including the gear for the members, but Mason said a lot of the equipment belongs to members of the company.
"Anything we've purchased is rightly ours," Mason said.
Sullivan said there is a question on equipment that the fire company members own.
"Fundraising efforts are geared to residents, so there is a belief that even the equipment bought with fundraising could be taxpayers' money," Sullivan said.
That is the very definition of slippery slope right there. Once any government gets control of any funds it becomes one big pie to be divvied up as needs must. In the just above bankruptcy level where many governments live, how tempting the donations given to local organizations must be.
I give money to the local fire company, ambulance service, and library. I feel confident that the money I give will be used for better equipment, training, books, or to support a special program for kids. If I felt the Borough was doing fund-raising of its own to raise money to keep afloat beyond what is coming in from taxes, I would buy the cake or the raffle ticket or whatever is the inducement.
Heck, a fund raiser that was to pick up stuff I can't take myself to the recycling center/dump is one I have been asking for.
The feud between the Newfield Volunteer Fire Company and the Borough Council is now at a place where only "secret talks" can work to end it. I, myself, can not think of a solution that allows both parties to save face (and there is lot of face on the line as it is playing out in the news media) and preserve the integrity of both organizations - nor of the town.
Newfield is already in a downward spiral and accelerating: the Fire Company is on its way to being sidelined if not already there; the Newfield Public Library has cut Saturday hours; the Newfield Ambulance Corps has problems having enough people to respond to calls; the once vibrant ball fields are barely used; the Cemetery totters along barely staying solvent. Part of this is socio-economic (Newfield was never rich; its industrial base has eroded away; both parents in young families work; more of the town is over age 60 then ever before) and part of this is cultural (volunteerism is not something you can do with a computer very easily when physical labor or presence is required; service organizations like Kiwanis have disappeared).
But part of this downward spiral is a loss of identity too. People of all ages used to be proud to say they were from Newfield. Note they didn't say they lived in Newfield, they were from Newfield no matter how long or short they'd been there. When I was a tween (way before that name was invented), we used to call into the radio stations to make song requests and identify ourselves are being from "Sunny Newfield, where it never rains" or sometimes our name was "Sunny Newfield." There was a sense of belonging; that you were part of something good. I have been searching for that old feeling in my fellow residents since I came back 7 years ago and all I find are faint, random echoes (yeah, mixed metaphors). More often I find apathy, people burnt out on frustrating efforts from the past 40 years I was not here, or just plain old pessimists.