BOE to Appeal Public Records Decision
● By Rebecca K. Abma
The Midland Park Board of Education plans to appeal a decision aimed at granting the public greater access to information discussed at its public meetings. At its Jan. 28, the board voted 8-1 to appeal the court’s decision in an Open Public Meeting Act (OPMA) and Open Public Record’s Act (OPRA) case that required the district to post supplemental appendix items along with its agenda at least 48-hours before public meetings.
"The board has chosen to appeal this decision to seek badly needed clarity and protect the integrity and reputation of past and present boards,” Board President Bill Sullivan told Suburban News. “We need to end this to avoid further legal costs and that can only come from an appellate ruling."
In December, Superior Court Judge Hon. Peter E. Doyne ruled in favor of resident David Opderbeck, who successfully argued that the district’s failure to provide agenda attachments and appendices prior to public meetings renders them essentially meaningless.
Prior to filing the suit, Opderbeck, a law professor at Seton Hall University, tried to come to an understanding with the board to improve public access to information. 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, but on Oct. 15, withdrew the proposal.
“There exists a significant public interest in ensuring the open, transparent, and public review of matters discussed by the Board consistent with the legislative intent pursuant to OPRA, OPMA, and the common law right of access,” Doyne stated in his ruling. “To the extent the Board does not claim an exemption, privilege, or some particularized reasons why it cannot produce the documents, all attachments shall be uploaded with the agenda pursuant to the requirements of OPMA.”
Currently, a handful of other districts voluntarily supply some agenda appendices, while others do not. Midland Park is the only district that has been court ordered to provide the documents. The case sets a legal precedent, which the appeal sets out to clarify.
So far, the district spent slightly more than $15,000 on legal fees in the matter, and officials said the appeal should not cost that much more because most of the work has already been completed.
What do you think of the board's decision to appeal? Tell Us in the comments!
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