Friday, August 26, 2011

Somerset Freeholders revise their closed session policy

If your local government officials aren't doing what the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) requires, one way to get their attention is to threaten to sue them.

That's what I did on August 11, 2011 when I discovered that the Somerset County Freeholders were discussing matters in closed session that should have been discussed in public and were keeping closed meeting minutes that lacked enough detail for the public to understand what was discussed.

So that the Freeholders realized that I wasn't making idle threats, I drafted a civil lawsuit and e-mailed it to the Board advising them that unless I heard from them or their attorney by Friday, August 26, 2011 (i.e. three days after the Freeholder Board's August 23, 2011 meeting), I would file my lawsuit "without further notice."

On August 26, 2011, at 4:37 p.m., I received a letter from Somerset County Counsel William T. Cooper, III providing me with a list of five changes that the Freeholders pledged to make to bring them within OPMA compliance. Mr. Cooper's letter, along with my draft lawsuit, is on-line here.

This is a good outcome because I was able to get compliance without having to burden the taxpayers (and myself) with the cost of litigation.

And, although it sounds difficult and may seem a bit intimidating, it's not really very hard to file a lawsuit without an attorney. I've done it several times and have found that, in most all cases, the courts haven't been hostile to a non-lawyered citizen and have actually been quite accommodating and helpful.

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

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