Open government activist Martin O'Shea dies at 75

| 29 Sep 2011 | 04:41

    Stockholm — Martin O’Shea, the well-known advocate of open government and longtime newspaper journalist, died Friday, Dec. 11, at his home. He was 75. O’Shea made a name for himself locally for his passion for open government. He brought lawsuits against the Township of West Milford, the West Milford Police Department and the West Milford Board of Education, all, his supporters say, in an effort to keep government accountable to the people. “After Martin went into retirement, he found his true passion,” said James Warden, former West Milford councilman. “He wanted transparency in government. He tried and he succeeded, and he was a good example of how one person could make a difference.” O’Shea was born in Passaic and lived most of his life in New Jersey. He found his calling as a journalist early, working for the New York Herald Tribune, Newsday and retiring in 1991 after serving as an editor at The New York Times. But retirement didn’t include lounging in the sunshine for O’Shea. Instead, he worked to make sure the Sunshine Law was followed throughout the state. In doing so, he ruffled some feathers along the way. “In many cases they (West Milford Township) decided to fight because it’s me,” O’Shea told The West Milford Messenger shortly after he won what would be his last case against the township. He won that case, which requires police departments to make available their use of force reports. It just may have been his biggest victory. “This is major,” he said at the time. “Others wouldn’t have had this impact statewide.” Jane Primerano, former editor of the West Milford Messenger, knew O’Shea well and respected him both as a journalist and an activist. “He was an old-time newspaperman in the best sense of the word,” said Primerano. “Martin didn’t play well with others. He didn’t suffer fools gladly and he didn’t waste time, his own or anyone else’s, on making nice. I have observed a visible rise in blood pressure on the other side of a dais when Martin began to speak. I have also observed a look of relief on the face of someone when he discovered someone was on his side. On the side of sunshine.” A funeral Mass was held Wednesday for O’Shea at St. John Vianny Church in Stockholm. Jennifer Borg, internal counsel for North Jersey Newspapers eulogized O’Shea, saying he was her mentor and adding that he knew more about open public meetings and the open public records law than any lawyer. “He was different from a gadfly,” said Borg. “He found solutions. He had more energy than people half his age. He fought for those who couldn’t fight for themselves. His goal was to make sure everyone played by the rules.” “Martin held government accountable to the people who elected them,” added Warden. “A lot of people who didn’t know Martin O’Shea are going to miss him. What he’s done will affect things for many years. He will be sorely missed.” Martin O’Shea’s obituary can be found on page 24.