Did The BOE Violate The Sunshine Law?

Did The BOE Violate The Sunshine Law?thumbnail
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Published: August 23, 2016 @ 12:00 PM EDT

At the July 26th Board Of Education (BOE) meeting, resident Joseph Signorello, Jr. asked during the public comment portion if the Board violated New Jersey’s Sunshine Law.

The Sunshine Law is the commonly referred to name of the Open Public Meetings Act or OPMA (link). This law was enacted over 40 years ago and it lays the foundation of the public’s right to attend official government meetings and to have adequate advance notice of all those public meetings.

Mr. Signorello stated, “This meeting tonight, I’m trying to get a verification now [from] an attorney, should have there [been] a 48-hour or 72-hour notice with the agenda? Is this meeting legal tonight? Your agenda didn’t come out till today. The agenda didn’t come out until around 11 o’clock today.”

Roselle Park School District (RPSD) Business Administrator Sue Guercio explained, “The agenda was posted online the end of last week, on Friday, I believe. However, over the weekend Mike Estrada had a change in our website and, unfortunately, with the new website design there was some glitch that . . . the board page didn’t [update].”

Mr. Estrada is the school district’s Chief Technology Officer and on the weekend of July 23rd, the district updated its website.

“I didn’t see it Thursday or Wednesday,” said Mr. Signorello.

“It came to our attention today and we got it back up later today,” stated Mrs. Guercio, adding, “It was posted last week on Friday.”

Mr. Signorello inquired, “I’m just curious, is there an hour you’re supposed to have? 72 [or] 48-hours?”

The time limit Mr. Signorello seemed to be referring to is a section of OPMA that does mandate a 48-hour advance notice for any meeting that is not listed on what is called an “Annual Notice”. OPMA mandates that a public body provide an “Annual Notice” of all regularly scheduled meetings that contains the time, date, and – to the extent known – the location of each meeting. This must be done within seven days of the annual organization or reorganization meeting of the public body.

A review of the BOE’s reorganization meeting on January 5th of this year shows that Agenda Item 8 (on page 5) is a listing of all regularly scheduled meetings (link). The July 26th meeting is listed in the Annual Notice and, thereby, does not need any additional 48-hour advance notice.

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A “48-Hour Notice” would be required if a public body wished to convene a meeting which was not listed on the annual notice. OPMA mandates that the public body provide a written notice at least 48 hours prior to the convening of that special meeting. That was not the case on July 26th.

But does the school district, or even school boards in general, have a different policy?

RPSD Policy 9323/9324 (link), titled “Agenda Preparation/Advance Delivery Of Meeting Material”, states:

The agenda shall be published pursuant to provisions of the Open Public Meetings Act.

The last paragraph of this policy states:

The agenda, together with supporting materials, shall be distributed to board members sufficiently prior to the board meeting to permit them to give items of business careful consideration. The agenda shall also be made available to the press, representatives of community and staff groups, and others, upon request.

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The RPSD website has agenda available, in line with this section of the policy, in advance of meetings, even though there is no legally required time frame of either 48 or 72 hours.

Additionally, the New Jersey School Boards Association (NJSBA) website reiterates in its FAQ section (link) the aforementioned points:

What is the board agenda?

While school boards publicly post an annual notice describing the date and location of meetings, they are not required by law to post an agenda for each meeting. However, most do have an agenda. If they do, the agenda must reasonably reflect the matters to be discussed. However, the board is not precluded from addressing an issue that arises just because it was not on the agenda.

In conclusion, had the July 26th meeting not been a regular meeting listed on the school district’s annual notice and was called as a “Special Meeting”, then yes, it would have required a “48-Hour Notice” but since it was a regularly scheduled meeting, the BOE did not violate OPMA.

The next scheduled BOE meeting is tonight at 7 p.m. inside the Roselle Park Middle School auditorium, located at 57 West Grant Avenue.