Friday, February 18, 2011

Important OPMA case: Court forbids routine "sequencing" of open and closed sessions.

In an important ruling handed down today, the Appellate Division ruled that the routine sequencing of a five-minute open session, followed by a closed session of indeterminate duration, followed by the resumption of an open session, violates the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA).

The court found that such sequencing forces citizens to wait a considerable period of time while the body is in closed session and provides them no guarantee when the open session will resume. Such uncertainty, the court ruled, will inevitably cause some members of the public to leave the meeting, a result that would be avoided if the closed session did not begin until the entire public session had been completed.

The court did not rule that there could never be a case where it was proper for a closed session to be held before the public portion ended. Rather, it ruled against the public body in this case because the record reflected that the body routinely engaged in this practice.

Also of importance was the court's ruling that resolutions passed in advance of a closed session AND THE PUBLIC NOTICES ADVERTISING THE CLOSED MEETING, "should contain as much information as is consistent with full public knowledge without doing any harm to the public interest."

The court also ruled that the body's discussion regarding "the need for clear rules to be implemented across all facets of the University" should not have been held in closed session.

The decision, McGovern v. Rutgers, is on-line here.

John Paff, Chair
New Jersey Libertarian Party's
Open Government Advocacy Project

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