Friday, July 12, 2013

Is the Fort Lee school board violating the Meetings Act?

July 12, 2013

Dennis McKeever, Esq.
Lindabury McCormick Estabrook & Cooper,PC
53 Cardinal Dr
Westfield, NJ 07090-1020
dmckeever@lindabury.com

RE:    Fort Lee Board of Education, Private Session Minute Policy

Dear Mr. McKeever:

I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to ensure governmental accountability and transparency.  I write to you because public records indicate that you are counsel for the Fort Lee Board of Education.

The result of a recent Open Public Records Act request causes me to conclude that the Board's practice regarding recording and maintaining its nonpublic (closed or executive) meeting minutes violates N.J.S.A. 10:4-14.  I have uploaded relevant records to the Internet here.

As you will note, the Board went into nonpublic session between 7:02 p.m. and 7:58 p.m. on March 26, 2012.  Yet, when I asked for the minutes reflecting what had occurred during that fifty-six minute interval, Interim School Business Administrator/Board Secretary Robert Brown informed me that minutes for that interval "do not exist."  Executive session minutes from June 10, 2013, June 20, 2013 and June 26, 2013 suggest that the Board also did not record minutes of the nonpublic intervals that took place during those meetings. This evidence causes me to conclude that the Board is not complying with Attorney General Formal Opinion No. 1-1998 ("[T]he Open Public Meetings Act specifically requires that the public body maintain 'reasonably comprehensible minutes' of all meetings including executive sessions....' Thus, the law unambiguously requires minutes of closed or executive sessions to be made and maintained.")

Would you please raise this issue at the July 15, 2013 Board meeting?  Please be advised that if necessary, I will not hesitate to  file a lawsuit against the Board for declaratory and injunctive relief pursuant to N.J.S.A. 10:4-16.  Hopefully, I will receive prompt assurance from your office or Mr. Brown that the Board will, going forward, fully comply with the Open Public Meetings Act by keeping reasonably comprehensible minutes of all its meetings, including those not open to the public.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Very truly yours,

John Paff

cc. Robert Brown, Interim School Business Administrator/Board Secretary
(via e-mail to rbrown@flboe.com)

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