Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Open Meetings Proposal Opposed

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Open Meetings Proposal Opposed

Article excerpt

ENGLEWOOD -- City officials say they are all for open and transparent government, but they disagree with several changes being proposed to state laws governing public access to documents and meetings.

The council discussed a draft resolution that's been circulated to municipal clerks across the state that takes aim at changes to the state's Open Public Records Act and the Open Public Meetings Act, also known as the "Sunshine Law."

"There is absolutely no question, at baseline this is an unfunded state mandate," Mayor Frank Huttle said of the legislation at Tuesday's council work session.

State Sen. Loretta Weinberg, D-Teaneck, and Assemblyman Gordon Johnson, a former city councilman, who share a district office with Huttle's wife, Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, sponsored the bills.

Weinberg said Wednesday that she was "really surprised" to hear Englewood officials have issues with the proposed changes.

"There is a lot of misinformation, and since we have an office in Englewood and we have an office in Teaneck, anyone is welcome to come up here and go over it word for word," she said.

For example, Englewood's draft resolution says that under proposed changes to the OPRA, the current records custodian could be held liable for missing records that were created prior to his or her tenure with the municipality.

Weinberg said her bill does not say that.

The bills amend laws that were enacted before the widespread use of social media and other technologies. Among the changes to the "Sunshine Law," elected officials would not be able to use handheld electronic devices such as cellphones to communicate with one another during public meetings instead of discussing issues in the open.

The bills also would add agencies under its jurisdiction and would require municipal governing bodies to post public notice of all of its subcommittee meetings and to keep minutes.

Englewood's draft resolution contends that provision would create an added advertising cost and require an employee to take minutes. It asserts that the bills' definition of subcommittee is too broad.

Huttle said he is "strongly opposed" to the inclusion of subcommittees and pointed to the joint council and Board of Education committee that was formed when voters defeated the school budget, saying that the closed-door negotiations helped both sides reach an agreement. …

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