It grieves me to have to sit down and write this blog post.
As of the writing of this post at precisely 10:37 PM EST, yet again, no agenda has been made available to the public for review before tomorrow’s Board of Education Meeting. That meeting begins in approximately 20 hours. Will they decide to make it available 6 hours before the meeting, as they did last time? How are the residents of Belleville supposed to prepare for a public meeting, without knowing what is even on the table for discussion?
Given that we have forensically established a very long, consistent pattern of the Belleville BOE creating the agenda the day of the meeting, we can only conclude one thing – the BOE doesn’t want you to be prepared. Unfortunately for them, the New Jersey State Senate couldn’t disagree more. This shameful pattern of behavior by the Board of Education is not only unethical, but also against the law.
The law requires that all meeting agendas be made available for public viewing, in several accessible locations, a minimum of 48 hours prior to commencement of the meeting.
To all officials holding a seat on the Belleville Board of Education – concerned and often outraged residents of this town have repeatedly complained about your deliberate refusal to provide adequate 48 hour notice of all meeting agendas, and reminded you of your obligations to the people of Belleville. Your continued disregard for New Jersey State Law has gone on for far too long, to the detriment of the residents of this town.
The NJ Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA), also commonly known as “The Sunshine Law”, clearly outlines the rules and responsibilities for all members of a public body in conducting any public meeting. The NJ OPMA is not a set of guidelines, or a list of “nice to have” items for putting together a successful meeting; these are firm requirements, mandated by New Jersey State Law.
Under Section 3 of P.L.1975, c.231 (C.10:4-6 et seq.), the Board of Education must provide all of the following in order to satisfy the 48-hour notice requirements of any public meeting:
- 48-hour notice of the accurate date, time, and location of the meeting must be provided.
- An accurate public agenda must be made accessible to the public no less than 48 hours prior to the meeting.
- Note that any item which does not appear on a lawfully-noticed public agenda may NOT be deliberated nor acted upon by the Board!
- If that public agenda was not adequately noticed under the provisions of the OPMA, then the Board may not decide nor take action upon any item on it whatsoever.
- Both the notice of the meeting and the public agenda must be published in ALL of the following locations no less then 48 hours prior to the meeting:
- The Board of Education’s website
- 2 pre-designated newspapers, one of which must be the “official” newspaper of the township
- A third public location typically reserved for such announcements
- Filed with the Municipal Clerk
Perhaps you weren’t aware of this, but under Section 15 of P.L.1975, c.231 (C.10:4-19), any member can be removed from the public body for two or more violations of the Open Public Meetings Act, if those violations result in the significant denial of the public’s right of access as provided by the OPMA. The simple act of denying the public adequate notice of meeting agendas, as prescribed by law, is perhaps the most grievous example of such an offense perpetrated time and time again by the Board of Education, and could be argued as grounds for your removal. Since none of you have ever in two years officially stated a personal objection to conducting a non-compliant meeting, you are all equally responsible, and we will treat you as such.
It is time for each of you to be held personally accountable for repeatedly denying the public reasonable access to information that we are fully and lawfully entitled to, and that you plan to deliberate and act upon, at the expense of not only our tax dollars, but also the quality of our children’s education.
The Nutley Watch is putting each and every member of the Belleville Board of Education on notice:
Your repeated, blatant, deliberate disregard for the New Jersey Open Public Meetings Act, and your denial of the public’s legally-protected right to informed participation in public affairs is a shameful outrage, and will no longer be tolerated.
- We demand full compliance with each and every provision of the New Jersey Open Public Meetings Act from this point forward.
- We demand full transparency and accountability for your actions to date.
Our demands are non-negotiable. Belleville deserves better.