Monday, February 16, 2009

More on "effective majority" question

I received a very thoughtful letter from Andover Township (Sussex County) attorney Fred Semrau in response to my questions about how meetings of committees of the Township Committee interplay with the requirements of the Sen. Byron M. Baer Open Public Meetings Act. The correspondence is on-line here.

Mr. Semrau concluded that a) the OPMA would be violated if the members of a committee were to later constitute a majority of the entire governing body voting on the committee's recommendations, and b) a committee cannot exclude another member of the governing body from attending a committee meeting even if that resulted in the committee meeting being advertised as a public meeting.

I urge readers to send the correspondence at the link above to their own municipal governing bodies. I believe that the fact that a municipal attorney has reviewed these issues and commented on them will lead other municipalities to also review and perhaps revise their policies regarding committee meetings.

I think that Mr. Semrau's letter would be of particular interest to political minorities on municipal governing bodies. For example, if you live in a borough where five Republicans and two Democrats serve as the Mayor and Council, Mr. Semrau's letter may assist the two Democrats convince the Republican majority that they (i.e. the Democrats) have a right to attend Council committee meetings even if it means that the committee meetings will then have to be advertised and opened to the public.

If one or more members of the political minority were to make it their practice to attend EVERY committee meeting, that could have the effect of opening EVERY committee meeting to the public--which I believe would be a very desirable outcome.

John Paff
Somerset, New Jersey

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