Sunday, February 12, 2012

Mostly a win in Camden

At 10 a.m. on Friday, February 10, 2012, Jose Delgado and I appeared before Camden County Assignment Judge F. J. Fernandez-Vina to pursue our Sen. Byron M. Baer Open Public Meetings Act case against the Camden City Board of Education. I appeared in person and Jose, who was on vacation, appeared by way of speakerphone. Background and case documents are available here and the orders that ultimately issued are here. (Three open government activists, as well as a member of the board attended and observed. I appreciate the activists' support.)

Follow are the five issues that we presented (as set forth in the blog entry at the link above) and the result for each:

1. How promptly must a government agency publicly disclose the nonexempt portions of its nonpublic (i.e. “closed” or “executive”) meeting minutes?
Going forward, the Camden Board of Education must make the minutes of its closed meetings, redacted only as necessary, publicly available within thirty days of the meeting or three days prior to its next public meeting, whichever comes first. This will require the board to significantly depart from its current practice. As it is, closed session minutes from as early as June 21, 2011 are not publicly available at the present time, even though nearly eight months have elapsed.
2. Does the agency’s claim that it must first “approve” its nonpublic meeting minutes prior to publicly disclosing even redacted versions of them have a basis in law?
No. Since the board must disclose the minutes at least three days prior to its next meeting, it cannot "approve" them prior to disclosure.
3. Must an agency pass a separate, free-standing resolution in order to satisfy the requirements of N.J.S.A. 10:4-13, or is it sufficient for it to pass a motion, which is recorded in the regular meeting minutes?
No. Despite our best efforts, Judge Fernandez-Vina found no basis in law for requiring "free standing" resolutions as opposed to recording the motions in the public meeting minutes.
4. In its N.J.S.A. 10:4-13 motions or resolutions, how specifically must an agency describe the topics it plans to discuss during its nonpublic meetings?
The board must ensure that the motions or resolutions describe each topic to be privately discussed in sufficient detail and with sufficient specificity to allow the public to identify those topics. Judge Fernandez-Vina agreed with Jose and me that descriptions such "Legal Update, Contract Negotiations, Suspensions, Acting Principal-Vets, Resignations, Stipend Production Manager," which were included in the board's February 15, 2011 motion, are inadequate.
5. In its N.J.S.A. 10:4-13 motions or resolutions, how precisely must an agency state the time when and the circumstances under which the discussion conducted in nonpublic session can be disclosed to the public?
Judge Fernandez-Vina did not address this question.
In addition, Judge Fernandez-Vina ordered the board to pay Jose's and my costs of court.

At this point, Jose and I are working with the board's attorney, Lester Taylor, to hammer out the exact language that will be in the court's order. We're also submitting our bill of court costs. When that order and bill become available, I'll post them on-line and notify readers of the links.

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

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