Thursday, August 20, 2009

Important OPMA decision handed down today

On August 20, 2009, the Appellate Division handed down an important, published decision clarifying the Senator Byron M. Baer Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA). The decision, from Burnett v. Gloucester Township, Docket No. A-6131-07T2, is on-line here.

The thirty-six page decision covers a variety of topics, some of which will be discussed here.

First, the court found that OPMA plaintiffs, to be eligible for injunctive relief under N.J.S.A. 10:4-16, are not limited to OPMA violations occurring only within forty-five days of the filing of plaintiff's complaint.

Second, the court found that the county violated OPMA by taking formal action on lawsuit settlements "in the closed session and never ratified or even discussed [them] in a public session." According to the decision, "the Board voted to approve various settlements and disbursements of county funds . . . without benefit of public discussion or resolution. [Such] conduct flies in the face of the requirement for open government in pursuit of the "cherished ideal" of "government of the people."

Third, the court found that the Freeholder Board misused OPMA's personnel exception by "adopt[ing] policies affecting county employees generally or the creation of new county positions" in closed session. The court held that such was improper because it "did not relate to discussions regarding a specific employee."

I urge everyone to take the time to read this important decision.

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