What is Mahwah hiding?

Transparency in government is very important.  As the Secretary of the Teaneck Planning Board, I made it a priority to ensure that minutes of meetings were prepared and published in a timely manner because the public has a right to know what is happening.

But the folks in Mahwah, NJ don’t seem to share that commitment.  When I requested minutes from the meeting where Ordinances 1810 (Peddling and Soliciting), 1811 (Police Director) and 1812 (Parks restrictions) were introduced, I was told that no meeting minutes were available.

It’s been 95 days since the meeting.  Is there a particular reason that they feel the Open Public Meetings Act doesn’t apply to Mahwah?  I asked the Council President at the last meeting and he said it wasn’t his responsibility. Passing the buck seems to be his preferred method of dealing with problems.

Are you trying to hide the hateful comments made from residents from the public view, Mr. Hermansen?  Or is public transparency just not high on your list of priorities?

The Open Public Meetings Act (N.J.S.A. 10:4-14 or OPMA) states:

Minutes of meetings; availability to public
Each public body shall keep reasonably comprehensible minutes of all its meetings showing the time and place, the members present, the subjects considered, the actions taken, the vote of each member, and any other information required to be shown in the minutes by law, which shall be promptly available to the public to the extent that making such matters public shall not be inconsistent with section 7 of this act.

The NJ Courts have stated:

“The words “promptly available” in N.J.S.A. 10:4-14 require public bodies to approve and make their meeting minutes available to the public in a manner that fulfills the Legislature’s commitment to transparency in public affairs.”

 and

“The expeditious release of meeting minutes is a vital part of the OPMA’s promise to bring public affairs from obscurity to the light of day. This requires those who agree to serve on public bodies to act without delay and take the action required to make the meeting minutes promptly available to the public. The argument advanced by the Board to justify delaying the approval of its minutes by as much as eighty-eight days is unpersuasive. The position of trustee of a public university governing board carries great responsibilities.”

If 88 days was too much, what would you call 95?
Transparency is important Mahwah.

My email to the clerk of Mahwah in reply to the denial of minutes:

Dear Clerk Coviello,

 
NJSA 10:4-14, et seq. (“OPMA”) requires that Minutes be made available to the public, “promptly”.  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.
 
Under Kean Federation of Teachers v. Morell, et al, the Appellate Division ordered the Board to “release the meeting minutes to the public within a timeframe of thirty to forty-five days of the last meeting, unless extraordinary circumstances prevent the Board from meeting”  They found this timeframe to be a requirement of NJSA 10:4-14.
 
The decision goes further to state:

“The words “promptly available” in N.J.S.A. 10:4-14 require public bodies to approve and make their meeting minutes available to the public in a manner that fulfills the Legislature’s commitment to transparency in public affairs.”

and

“The expeditious release of meeting minutes is a vital part of the OPMA’s promise to bring public affairs from obscurity to the light of day. This requires those who agree to serve on public bodies to act without delay and take the action required to make the meeting minutes promptly available to the public. The argument advanced by the Board to justify delaying the approval of its minutes by as much as eighty-eight days is unpersuasive. The position of trustee of a public university governing board carries great responsibilities.”

 
It has now been 95 days since the Mahwah Township Council meeting of July 27th, for which no minutes are available.
It has now been 81 days since the Mahwah Township Council meeting of August 10th, for which no minutes are available.
It has now been 76 days since the Mahwah Township Council meeting of August 15th, for which no minutes are available.
It has now been 67 days since the Mahwah Township Council meeting of August 24th, for which no minutes are available.
It has now been 46 days days since the Mahwah Township Council meeting of September 14th, for which no minutes are available.
 
This is not acceptable.  The responsibilities of a Township’s governing body are even greater than those at issue in Kean.
 
If there is a reason that that the minutes are not available which falls under the Appellate Division’s category for “extraordinary circumstances”, please provide documentation of the extraordinary circumstances pursuant to OPRA.  As per the opinion, “[e]xtraordinary circumstances shall include, but are not limited to, extreme weather, public emergencies, and any other unforeseen events that would make gathering to meet unreasonable”.
 
The public has a right to transparency.  The Township of Mahwah must provide minutes for the actions taken at public sessions in a timely manner.
 
I will be guided by your response.
 
Yours Truly,
Keith Kaplan

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