I recently settled my civil suit against the Lumberton Township (Burlington County) Committee that demanded prompter public access to the nonexempt portions of its executive session minutes. My lawsuit and the settlement agreement are on-line here and following is an article on the settlement that appeared in today's Burlington County Times.
Somerset, New Jersey
Lumberton agrees to quick release meeting minutes
By: Mark Zimmaro
Burlington County Times
The Township Committee has agreed to make the minutes from its executive sessions available to the public in a more prompt manner.
A civil lawsuit filed in State Superior Court by John Paff, Chair of the NJ Libertarian Party’s Open Government Advocacy Project, accused the Lumberton Township Committee of withholding minutes from their meetings that occur behind closed doors.
According to the lawsuit, Paff filed an Open Public Records Act of New Jersey request on June 29, asking for the township’s most recent available executive session minutes. On July 8, Paff received an e-mailed response from the township clerk with minutes from April and May of 2007.
“It was unacceptable,” said Paff, who resides in Somerset County. “These things need to be available to the public more frequently than that. It’s important for people to know what’s going on.”
Paff then sued the township and the two sides agreed to a settlement in which the committee arranged to make those minutes available more quickly to the public at their request.
“We never had any complaints before this,” said Lumberton Mayor Michael Mansdoerfer. “Basically we set up a policy on how to handle the minutes from now on while adhering to this complaint.”
The Township Committee meets twice a month and enters executive session at the majority of its meetings.
Currently there is no set timetable in state law for municipalities to make minutes available. However, the committee passed a resolution prior to the settlement stating that minutes from all its meetings would be available for public inspection as soon as they can be made properly available after the conclusion of the meeting. The resolution was agreed to during the settlement as guidelines for the release of future minutes.
“They agreed to make those minutes from one meeting available for request the day before the next meeting,” Paff said. “It’s good. There was a need for some clarity. I don’t think (the committee) was trying to hide anything and they were very cooperative once it was on their radar screen.”
Mansdoerfer agreed that settlement will provide a more transparent government in Lumberton.
“We want to be open with the public,” the mayor said. “It’s a good thing. It needed to be cleaned up.”
Paff has filed similar complaints in 17 municipalities in Atlantic County with 16 reaching similar settlements. The other case was won by Paff in Superior Court.
BCT staff writer Mark Zimmaro can be reached at 609-871-8059 or at mzimmaro@phillyBurbs.com
December 02, 2009 05:38 PM