Courtroom Camera Prompts Change In Closed Session

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Published: March 27, 2013 @ 6:00 PM EDT

Enhancements to security for Borough Hall and the municipal court have prompted the governing body to adjust how it handles it executive session, or closed session as it is also known, matters by having them move upstairs to the municipal conference room during closed session.

A security video camera located right under the Borough Seal in council chambers, a room which also acts as the Borough’s courthouse, has been recently installed to monitor court proceeding for the safety of both court personnel and the public. According to Police Chief Paul Morrison and members of council, this camera cannot be turned off without affecting the security system; the entire system would have to be shut down.

“When we first moved into the building in 1991 there were only three security cameras which only covered the rear parking area of police headquarters and the east side lot of borough hall,” Police Chief Morrison commented regarding the history of recorded security, “In 2007, I began installing a new security system with capital funds and since that time have added additional cameras each year. To date we now have every area of the building exterior covered with security cameras. The interior is also covered with security surveillance, however, I cannot reveal the areas for security reasons.”

All the cameras are monitored in the police dispatch center located in the building.

Under N.J.S.A. 10:4-12(b), commonly known as OPMA (Open Public Meetings Act) or “Sunshine Law”, any public governing body may hold a closed session when it is dealing with one of following nine subject-area exemptions:

  1. Matters made confidential by state, federal law or rule by court.
  2. Disclosure would result in an unwarranted invasion of individual privacy, unless the person affected consents in writing.
  3. Disclosure would impair the body’s right to receive federal or state funds.
  4. Collective bargaining.
  5. Lease or acquisition of property, setting of banking rates, investment of public funds if disclosure would harm the public interest.
  6. Strategies to protect public security or investigations into violations of law.
  7. Pending, ongoing or anticipated litigation or contract negotiation, including attorney-client privilege. The threat of litigation must be more than theoretical for this exemption to apply.
  8. Personnel matters affecting employees of the public bodies, unless all parties request or consent to a public hearing. Prior to discussion of personnel, affected employees must be given notice, known as a Rice notice, which gives the employee the right to request a public hearing.
  9. Proceedings that could result in a suspension, civil penalty, or loss of a license or permit.

Beyond the lack of legal privacy due to the active, constant monitoring by the police department, the concern for both the governing body and police is the possible public accessibility through an OPRA (Open Public Records Act) request of legally mandated video for a legally protected meeting, which has not been explicitly addressed by OPMA.

Starting at the next Mayor & Council meeting, scheduled for April 4th, the governing body will list – with sufficient detail – the general nature of what will be discussed during closed session, adjourn the open portion of the meeting, exit council chambers, and go to the second floor conference room to discuss matters legally protected from open meeting discussion. The public will be allowed to remain in council chambers while there is closed session. The Mayor & Council will then come back down to council chambers, return the meeting to open session, repeat the general nature of what was discussed during closed session, state if any matter was resolved along with how it was resolved, or if no action was taken on any executive session matter, and then – usually – close the meeting.