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Appellate Division Further Defines “Promptly Available” Meeting Minutes under OPMA

By on February 21, 2017 in Open Public Meetings Act with 0 Comments

Last week, we reviewed the New Jersey Appellate Division’s ruling in Kean Federation of Teachers v. Board of Trustees of Kean University, which changes a public entity’s obligations regarding Rice notices sent to its employees. You can read last week’s post here.

This week, we will examine the Appellate Division’s other decision in the Kean case regarding a public body’s duty under the Open Public Meetings Act (“OPMA”), N.J.S.A. 10:4-6 et seq., to make meeting minutes promptly available. While the OPMA itself does not establish a specific time period for the “promptly available” standard, the Appellate Division found that the Board of Trustees of Kean University (“Board”) violated the OPMA when it made its meeting minutes available 58 business days after its previous meeting.

During the 2014-2015 academic year, the Board held a total of five meetings on September 15, 2014, December 6, 2014, March 2, 2015, May 11, 2015, and June 29, 2015. Its practice was to consider for approval at each meeting the minutes of the immediately previous meeting, a typical procedure adopted by public entities. On December 18, 2014, an individual requested the minutes from the December 6, 2014 meeting. The Board’s Custodian of Records released the minutes on March 4, 2015 after the Board had formally approved them at the March 2, 2015 meeting, which was 58 business days and 88 calendar days after the December 6, 2014 meeting.

The Appellate Division disagreed with the Board’s argument that it promptly made the December 6, 2014 meeting minutes available by providing them two days after they were formally approved by the Board at the March 2, 2015 meeting. The Appellate Division also rejected the Board’s argument that it would be burdensome for it to convene additional meetings in order to approve the previous meeting’s minutes within 30-45 days. Rather, the Appellate Division relied on the Legislature’s commitment to transparency in public affairs through the OPMA. To that end, the Appellate Division reasoned that members of public bodies must act expeditiously and without delay to make minutes available to the public.

Public bodies should review their board meeting schedule and make sure their practices are consistent with making meeting minutes promptly available. As this case shows, 58 business days (88 calendar days) will not comply with the OPMA.

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Sanmathi (Sanu) Dev

About the Author

About the Author:

Sanmathi (Sanu) Dev, Esq. concentrates her practice on the representation of boards of education and charter schools in all areas of school law including: labor and employment, special education, Section 504, student discipline, FERPA, Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act, student residency, civil rights, tenure, OPRA, and OPMA. In connection with these representations, she is experienced in handling matters before State and Federal courts, including the Office of Administrative Law. Ms. Dev is an experienced special education litigator and defends school districts in due process hearings from inception through trial. In addition, she has handled matters before governmental agencies, including the U.S. Office for Civil Rights and New Jersey Division on Civil Rights. Ms. Dev routinely conducts training and seminars, drafts policies and manuals, and provides strategic advice to school administrators regarding school law issues. Ms. Dev was recently recognized as one of South Jersey’s Awesome Attorneys as published by South Jersey Magazine. She is licensed to practice law in New Jersey, the District Court for the District of New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

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