NJ Foundation for Open Government Denied Remaining Motion Filed Against LBI School Board
Last November the Long Beach Island Board of Education consented to follow the state Open Public Meetings Act and Open Public Records Act as per the resolution of a lawsuit lodged against it by the New Jersey Foundation for Open Government. In addition, the board agreed to pay the organization’s legal fees.
One question in the case – whether the board’s closed-meeting minutes contain enough detail to satisfy OPMA’s “reasonably comprehensible” standard – remained, however, until late last month, when Judge Marlene Lynch Ford denied NJFOG’s motion for summary judgment regarding these minutes.
According to the organization, “We argued that merely saying, for example, that ‘nepotism’ was an ‘additional item discussed’ was not ‘reasonably comprehensible’ because that one-word description gave the public no context as to the nature of the board’s private conversation. Judge Ford noted that some of the minute entries (many of which were redacted) were detailed and that others were not but opined that the entries, on average, were sufficiently comprehensible to meet the statutory standard.
“NJFOG disagrees with Ford’s analysis because we don’t think that averaging the comprehensibility of items within meeting minutes is appropriate. … A better approach, in NJFOG’s view, would be for the court to judge the minutes of each closed session discussion item independently. We feel that the failure of some sections of the minutes to be ‘reasonably comprehensible’ is reason to have upheld NJFOG’s claim.”
The school board’s counsel, Comengo Law Group, stated, “The board prides itself on the excellent educational services it provides to its students and its open and transparent public operations, including its compliance with the New Jersey Open Public Meetings Act.
“Recently, the New Jersey Foundation for Open Government challenged the sufficiency of certain board meeting minutes, alleging that these minutes failed to comply with OPMA’s standard of ‘reasonably comprehensible.’ The board is pleased to note its receipt of an Order recently issued by Judge Marlene Lynch Ford, denying the NJFOG’s Motion for Summary Judgment.”
Nonprofit NJFOG seeks to increase transparency and accountability in all levels of government by improving public access to records and meetings. As NJFOG’s Walter Luers remarked when the suit against the LBI BOE was filed last year, “Our goal is to put local governments on notice that they need to obey the laws designed to guarantee citizens’ access to public meetings and records.” —J.K.-H.