Tag Archives: OPMA

Government Records Council in Violation of OPMA?

We have blogged before about a public agency’s requirement under the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) to make its meeting minutes “promptly” available to the public.  Our courts have held that minutes must be made available within two weeks after a public meeting or, at a minimum, at least 48-hours prior to the next meeting.  Those who regularly file requests for meeting minutes, however, are well aware that overwhelmingly public agencies fail to meet this timeline.  Indeed, many, if not most, public agencies are months behind on releasing minutes to the public.

One such agency is the Government Records Council (GRC).  The GRC was created by the Legislature to assist in the administration of the Open Public Records Act (OPRA).  The GRC offers advice to records custodians and requestors, mediates and adjudicates denial of access complaints, and provides training on OPRA to custodians and the public.  You would think, then, that they would be a stellar example to other agencies on how to comply with New Jersey’s transparency laws.  Think again.

Our client, Harry Scheeler, just filed this complaint with the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office asking the prosecutor to investigate and find the GRC in violation of OPMA.  Mr. Scheeler demonstrates how the GRC is often nearly 6 months behind in making their minutes available to the public.  Their frequent excuse is that they are unable to have a quorum at their meetings to formally approve the minutes and thus the minutes are “drafts” that are exempt under OPRA.  Case law, however, is clearly that “promptly available” means just that and being months behind on approving minutes is unacceptable.

If the GRC is having trouble forming a quorum to hold its meetings (which also causes significant delay in the adjudication of OPRA complaints), perhaps the Governor should remove the members for “good cause.”  These absent members are clearly causing the GRC to fall short of its statutory obligations under OPMA.

For more information about this blog post or any other OPRA question, please contact cgriffin@pashmanstein.com.

Can I Request Closed Session Meeting Minutes?

Pursuant to the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA), meeting minutes must be “promptly available” to the public.  Our courts have held that “promptly available” means within two weeks after the public body’s last meeting or at least 48 hours prior to the next meeting. At any point after that, you are free to submit an OPRA request for the minutes and access must be granted within seven (7) business days.  But what about closed/executive session minutes?

OPMA allows a public body to meet in closed session to shield certain information from the public. Among other things, these matters include: (1) matter rendered confidential by other laws; (2) matters which would constitute an invasion of individual privacy; (3) proposed terms of a collective bargaining agreement; (4) litigation-related subjects; and (5) certain employment matters. N.J.S.A. 10:4-12.  The public body must keep minutes for these closed sessions. While it may redact the minutes when responding to your OPRA request, it must state the specific basis for each redaction within the minutes.  It is not enough that it issues a blanket claim of assertion for all redactions.  Finally, once the need to keep certain information ceases (such as once the litigation ends), then the public entity is to release the minutes in full, unredacted form.

For more information about this blog post, please contact cgriffin@pashmanstein.com.