Monday, April 2, 2012

Weinberg: Filing of OPMA lawsuits could have "negative impact"

In an April 1, 2012 article in the Record ("Meetings violation claimed," by Melissa Hayes) Senator Loretta Weinberg is quoted as stating that my filing of Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) enforcement lawsuits has "a negative impact because it makes municipalities not want to cooperate."  I disagree with the Senator. 

A large part of the problem is that even though the OPMA has been in effect for nearly forty years, some very basic terms remain unclear.  For example, reasonable minds can differ on the amount of detail "reasonably comprehensible" meeting minutes must contain or what period of time must elapse after which meeting minutes are no longer considered to have been made "promptly available to the public."  

The fuzziness of these terms allows public bodies to plausibly provide a level of transparency that falls short of what open government proponents believe the Legislature intended. Other than clarifying legislation, which Senator Weinberg is admirably pursuing, the only way to sharpen up these fuzzy definitions is through litigation. 

If a Bergen County judge, in response to the fourth count of my lawsuit against the Englewood Cliffs school board, issues a written opinion holding that the board's executive session minutes must "contain enough detail and context to allow a reader to understand and get good sense of each matter discussed, the various sides of and points of view regarding those matters and any conclusions that the Board reached regarding those matters," I believe that the willingness of other public bodies to voluntarily comply with that ruling will increase rather than decrease as the Senator argues. (Quote taken from paragraph M of my complaint) If, however, the judge rules that the school board's present, terse executive session minutes comport with the OPMA, then the need for Senator Weinberg's curative legislation will be underscored. (The Board's minutes are attached to my complaint at the above link.)

In sum, I don't see any negative impact arising from my efforts to use litigation to more clearly define the contours of the OPMA.

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