OLD Borough On The Record

A discussion of open and efficient government

M&C Meetings – More sunshine required

Tonight, 10/13/2016, at 7:30pm and 8:00pm, the Allendale Mayor and Council will hold their scheduled work and regular sessions.  A closed session, which legally excludes the public, will be held near the end of the regular session.

I am very interested in the activities of my elected representatives, and, as such, have spent a lot of time visiting the Borough of Allendale web site.  With my many visits, I have become familiar with the content and updating procedures of this site.

For any resident who wants to be similarly informed, they will need to be aware of the following:

  1. By law, public bodies must notify the public the publishing an agenda accordingly:  in a public place;  in two newspapers;  within 24 hours of the meeting.
  2. There is no legal requirement that any meeting agendas or any public records be posted on a web site.  Fortunately, beginning about 2004, the Borough began developing a web site and has since been regularly posting many documents and on-line forms on this site.
  3. There is no mention of tonight’s meeting on the home page of the Borough web site.  On the right side of the page, there is a calendar, and it does display dates for garbage pickup, but not for meetings of our public bodies (Mayor and Council, Planning Board, Board of Adjustment.  To find out what meetings are upcoming, you need to click on the link VIEW ALL EVENTS.
  4. To know what topics might be discussed at tonight’s meetings, you need to review the agendas.  But where are they?  On the left side of any Borough web page, click on Agenda/Meeting/Minutes, then click on Council, then Agenda. (Note: depending on your browser, you may have difficulty accessing this link).
  5. There are two agendas for tonight’s two meetings.  Let’s start with the work session agenda.  The M&C decide how much detail is provided here.  Every work session agenda is a non-descriptive listing of boiler-plate items.  Unless an award or proclamation is being given, there are no details included in this agenda.  If any important topic might be discussed, there is no legal requirement that it be detailed here for public consideration.
  6. The regular session agenda provides more details as these meetings will have items that will be voted on by the Mayor and Council.  These items might include appointments, resolutions, ordinances, and approval of previous meeting minutes.  Again, only minimal detail is required.  For resolutions and ordinances, only their titles need be listed.
  7. Finally, tonight there is a legally defined meeting called a closed session.  For any one of nine legally defined reasons, the M&C may exclude the public from observing their deliberations.  The reason provided typically relates to personnel confidentiality or an issue that may negatively impact the Borough if discussed publicly.  However, before going into closed session, OPMA requires the M&C to take several specific actions – including the adoption of a resolution, a detailed rationale for excluding the public, the preparation of minutes, and a date when the minutes can be made public.

Recommendations

  1. Display meeting dates on the Borough site home page.  Wherever these meeting date links are displayed, a link to the respective meeting agenda should be included.
  2. There is no predictable time when the agendas are posted on the Borough web site.  As such, I have to check repeatedly.  I checked late yesterday as well as several times through 9:43am today.  Not until I checked at 10:34am was I able to find out what would be discussed tonight.
  3. The Mayor often uses the work session to provide a significant community update.  This needs to be noticed in the agenda.
  4. Create a SwiftReach email list to notify resident of upcoming meetings and respective agendas.
  5. When describing the rationale for the closes session, more description is required by law
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