As someone familiar with the provisions of the Open Public Meeting Act (OPMA), I was very concerned about Freeholder Kate Gibbs comment at the July 12, 2017 meeting regarding executive session. For those who may not know, OPMA protects the rights of citizens to have notice of, and attend, meetings at which any business affecting the public is to be discussed or acted upon. In order for the Freeholders to enter into executive session, there are three conditions that have to be met: 1) The discussion must be of a confidential nature, such as personnel matters, contract negotiations or litigation matters; 2) a resolution must be passed during an open public meeting approving the closed session; and 3) the resolution has to state the matters to be discussed, with enough information that an interested party can identify the topic. For example, just saying “contract negotiations” isn’t enough; the resolution should include the specific contract being negotiated. The point of executive session is to protect the confidentiality of certain discussions, not to allow the governing body to hold private discussion on any topic they wish.
When I looked for public information on Freeholder meetings, I couldn’t find anything other than the 7pm meetings held on the 2 nd and 4 th Wed. of each month. It took an OPRA request for closed session resolutions for me to find out the Freeholders also meet at 5pm on those same days for what they call a “Conference Meeting”. Apparently it’s during these conference meetings that resolutions for executive session are passed.
These conference meetings are required to be just as public as the general meetings. They need to be properly noticed. Meeting minutes and resolutions approved at these meetings need to be just as readily available as the general session meetings, even if the only business is entering into executive session. Since meeting minutes of the executive session can’t be made public until the need for confidentiality has passed, it’s vitally important that the resolutions be clear to make it easy to know when those minutes will be available.
Why would the Freeholders not make the discussion of public business just that, public? Are all the closed discussions on issues that are exempt under OPMA? Why not publically discuss things such as what equipment is being purchased, how much it will cost, who they are appointing as commissioners and members of county boards? Don’t they want to discuss these things in full view of the public?
The Freeholders should immediately take steps to be in full compliance with the Open Public Meetings Act, properly notice all meetings of the Board and hold the discussion of non-confidential matters in full view of the public.
66 Mary St, Wrightstown, NJ