Saturday, June 18, 2016

Borough has three official newspapers. It seems that only one was notified of a special Borough Council meeting and that notification was late.

Update: July 15, 2016

In a July 14, 2016 letter, Borough Attorney Frederick C. Raffetto said that the Borough will re-vote the formal action taken at the March 23, 2016 meeting at the July 20, 2016 meeting.

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Following is Libertarians for Transparent Government's letter to the Mayor and Borough Council.

Dear Mayor and Council:

As our name implies, Libertarians for Transparent Government is a non-profit corporation dedicated to improving transparency in New Jersey government.  The Jamesburg Borough Council's compliance with the Open Public Meetings Act came to our attention after we read the following on the sixth page of the Council's April 20, 2016 public meeting minutes
Tom VandeSande — 2 Fernwood Lane — Mr. VanDeSande requested a second public hearing since we had it on our agenda. His concern was with a notice that was placed in the newspaper on March 25, 2016 advertising a special meeting that was held on March 23, 2016. Administrator Jawidzik explained that it was not an advertisement, but only a notice that the newspaper didn't even have to publish.
Based on this, we made an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request and received a response from Acting Clerk Sue Boulogne.  Both the request and response are on-line here.

Boulogne's response strongly suggests that the public was not properly notified of the Borough Council's March 23, 2016 special meeting.

N.J.S.A. 10:4-8(d) states:
“Adequate notice” means written advance notice of at least 48 hours, giving the time, date, location and, to the extent known, the agenda of any regular, special or rescheduled meeting, which notice shall accurately state whether formal action may or may not be taken and which shall be (1) prominently posted in at least one public place reserved for such or similar announcements, (2) mailed, telephoned, telegrammed, or hand delivered to at least two newspapers which newspapers shall be designated by the public body to receive such notices because they have the greatest likelihood of informing the public within the area of jurisdiction of the public body of such meetings, one of which shall be the official newspaper, where any such has been designated by the public body or if the public body has failed to so designate, where any has been designated by the governing body of the political subdivision whose geographic boundaries are coextensive with that of the public body . . .
Actual newspaper publication is not required.  The meeting notice must be sent early enough so that the newspaper, if it chooses to, could publish it at least 48 hours in advance of the meeting.  See, Worts v. Upper Township, 176 N.J.Super. 78 (Ch.1980). 

Resolution 026-01-06-16, as reflected in the January 6, 2016 Borough Council meeting minutes, states:
The Home News Tribune, Star Ledger and the Cranbury Press are hereby designated for the year 2016 as the official newspapers for the Borough of Jamesburg in the County of Middlesex for the publication of all legal notices and advertisements of the Borough and all its Boards, Bodies, Committees, Offices and Agencies, as required by N.J.S.A. 40:53-1, and the statutes in such case made and provided.
From all this, one would expect that Acting Clerk Boulogne would have sent timely notice of the March 23, 2016 to all three of the Borough's official newspapers.  Yet, the absence of e-mails to the Home News and Star Ledger in Acting Clerk Boulogne's response to our OPRA request suggests that those two newspapers were not notified at all.  And, it appears that the remaining newspaper--the Cranbury Press--received it notification too late.

Ms. Boulogne, in her response to our request, disclosed only one e-mail being sent on March 17, 2016 to legalnotices@centraljersey.com.  That e-mail address is for the Packet Media Group which consists of five newspapers, one of which "The Cranbury Press" which, according to the newspaper's website, publishes on Fridays

So, if the Borough sent an e-mail on Thursday afternoon to a paper that publishes on Friday, we seriously doubt that the e-mail would have been in time to meet the Press's publication deadline for the March 17th edition.  Having missed that deadline, the first time that the notice could have been published was on March 25, 2016, which is consistent with Mr. VanDeSande's statement.

In sum, it appears that the public was not properly notified of the Borough Council's March 23, 2016 special meeting.  Of the three official newspapers designated by the Council, only one was notified and that notification was late.

Would you be good enough to discuss this issue at your July 20, 2016 meeting?  We would greatly appreciate learning your thoughts on this matter.

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