Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Appellate Division shoots down Opderbeck ruling.

Senate Majority Leader
Loretta Weinberg
In an August 18, 2015 published opinion, a three-judge Appellate Division panel reversed Bergen County Superior Court Assignment Judge Peter E. Doyne's prior ruling that required the Midland Park Board of Education to make "copies of any appendices, attachments, reports, and other documents referred to in" the school board public meeting agendas publicly available on the Internet at least forty-eight hours prior to the meeting.  In his December 24, 2013 decision that accompanied the order that the Appellate Division today reversed, Doyne, who has since retired, said that the Midland Park school board's bare agendas were "virtually meaningless" without the attachments and appendices.

Back in 1975, when the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) was passed, the Internet was in it infancy and making an agenda's attachments publicly available would have required a significant amount of labor and paper.  The panel noted, however, that disclosing the attachments in today's world "merely requires adding an electronic 'link' to the Board's agenda, which is already posted on its official website." The ease of making this information available made it "tempting" for the panel to require public bodies to provide that link.

The panel found, however, that judges aren't allowed to "amend statutes using [their] own notion of what is in the public's best interest."  Rather, the panel ruled that the courts must enforce statutes as they are written and not as judges feel they ought to be written.  The panel defined a meeting agenda as merely "a list or outline of things to be considered or done."  Since Doyne's ruling required what the statute did not, it was reversed.

On the penultimate page of its decision, the Appellate panel "respectfully suggested" that the legislature consider updating the Meetings Act to reflect the technological changes that have occurred during the forty years since the Act's enactment.  Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen) has introduced S-781 which would make many important changes to the Meeting Act.  Unfortunately, The bill has hit a roadblock that Weinberg claims was erected by the New Jersey League of Municipalities.

The panel's opinion was written by Presiding Judge Jose L. Fuentes and joined by judges Victor Ashrafi and Amy O'Connor.

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