Skip to main content

Midland Park

Open Records Suit Filed Against BOE

11/15/2013 12:23PM ● By Rebecca K. Abma

Highland School

Whether or not Board of Educations should be required to provide agenda appendix items to the public in advance of meetings will soon be decided in the courts. Midland Park resident David Opderbeck filed a complain this month to force the Midland Park Board of Education to share more information with the public.

"In my opinion, they are violating the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA), the Open Public Records Act (OPRA), and the common law right to information because they refuse to supply to the public the appendices and attachments to public board meeting agendas," Opderbeck told Midland Park Press. "The appendices and attachments are incorporated by reference into the agendas, and are necessary to understand actions the Board takes during open public meetings."

In September, the board's policy committee proposed a measure to post agenda appendix items and supplemental materials on the district website, along with the agendas prior to meetings. After much discussion, the governing body first opted to amend the proposed change to just include items referenced as appendices on the agenda, and on Oct. 15, withdrew the proposed changes to maintain the status quo.

At the time Board Policy Chair Tim Thomas stated, “We went out to about 20 different districts and not one other district in our area has it as part of their bylaws to include that information. There are two or three districts that release some of the information, but it is not a part of their policy.”
 
The board did not specify if they intend to include appendix or other supplemental items when posting agendas online prior to the meetings.

Opderbeck, a law professor at Seton Hall University School of Law and Director at Gibbons Institute of Law, Science & Technology, said he believes the district is violating OPMA, OPRA and the common law right to information because they refuse to supply to the public the appendices and attachments to public board meeting agendas. These items are incorporated by reference into the agendas, and are necessary to understand actions the Board takes during open public meetings.

He believes the statutory case law strongly supports this position, as outlined in my brief. 

"In general OPMA and OPRA should be construed broadly in favor of public access," he explained.  "The Board's arguments, I believe, are based on narrow, technical readings of the statutes without any factual or legal support."

The goals of his suit is for the board to adopt a more open and participatory posture concerning its interaction with the public and to comply with the spirit of law in providing the public with information that is discussed at the meeting in advance of the meeting. He also hopes the court will make clear that agenda appendices and attachments cannot be withheld from the public prior to public meetings.

Opderbeck noted that he tried for months to negotiate a resolution with the Board. 

"I thought we had reached a resolution, which I believe the Board backed out of without explanation," he said. "I truly regret that it has been necessary to involve the court, but the Board's stubborn refusal to supply the public with meaningful information made this lawsuit necessary."

The case was filed in Bergen County Superior Court on Nov. 6. The following day, Judge Peter E. Doyne returned an order to show cause, for which the district is to appear at the Bergen County Court House on Dec. 13.

School Business Administrator Stacy Garvey told Midland Park Press that she could not discuss the issue due to ongoing litigation.
Upcoming Events Near You

No Events in the next 21 days.