Here is video coverage of Wednesday’s special meeting of the Belleville Town Council, held not at all surprisingly at 4:30 PM.
For starters, since this was a special meeting and not a regularly scheduled business meeting covered by their annual notice, by law the governing body is required under the Open Public Meetings Act to advertise this meeting in the two official papers of the township. Both the Belleville Times and the Star Ledger are designated as such.
The following notice appeared in the Belleville Times:
MEETING NOTICE The Mayor and Municipal Council of the Township of Belleville have scheduled a Special Meeting for Wednesday, March 16, 2016 at 4:30 p.m. The meeting will take place in the Council Chambers, Town Hall, 152 Washington Avenue, Belleville, NJ. The purpose of the meeting is to discuss the Housing Element and Fair Share Plan for the Township of Belleville. In addition, some members of the Municipal Council may be attending this meeting via telephone conference. Kelly A. Cavanagh, Municipal Clerk Belleville Times 4001052 Fee:$6.53 March 10, 2016
Terrific. However, as is typical, we could find no such notice in the Star Ledger.
Upon being put on notice by an advocate that her “Sunshine Notice” statement itself was inadequate under OPMA, municipal clerk Kelly Cavanagh responded angrily that the meeting was noticed in the Belleville Times, the Star Ledger, and “The Kearny Observer”.
Uh no, it most certainly was NOT, Ms. Cavanagh.
If this woman really thinks we don’t know what’s going on, we’d be happy to force her to provide proof of her assertions very publicly via OPRA. We’ve already been down this road with her, and I sincerely doubt she (or the Council) wants us to turn this fight over the rights of Belleville residents under state law into a public battle. I’ve been tracking this for two years, and I have the video evidence to back it up.
They will lose, and lose miserably.
The advertisement appeared in the Belleville Times only, which does not satisfy the public notice obligation under OPMA for special meetings, or any public meetings for that matter.
I’m getting really tired of watching virtually every Council meeting in the last two years include multiple violations of a law that’s written clearly enough for most 12 year-old’s to be able to understand and follow.
Here’s a snippet of the relevant law as written in the Open Public Meetings Act:
N.J.S.A. 10:4-10. Statement in minutes of meeting on adequate notice
At the commencement of every meeting of a public body the person presiding shall announce publicly, and shall cause to be entered in the minutes of the meeting, an accurate statement to the effect:
a. that adequate notice of the meeting has been provided, specifying the time, place, and manner in which such notice was provided; or
b. that adequate notice was not provided,…
Mayor Kimble then attempted to explain that they are required to advertise the meeting in only one newspaper. Meanwhile, literally half the residents in the room shook their heads, held up two fingers, or verbally corrected him. Evidently residents have been paying attention and getting up to speed on the Sunshine Law, which always makes me happy.
It’s TWO newspapers, Mayor Kimble and Council. I’m sure you know this already.
N.J.S.A. 10:4-8. Definitions
d. “Adequate notice” means written advance notice of at least 48 hours, giving the time, date, location and, to the extent known, the agenda of any regular, special or rescheduled meeting, which notice shall accurately state whether formal action may or may not be taken and which shall be (1) prominently posted in at least one public place reserved for such or similar announcements, (2) mailed, telephoned, telegrammed, or hand delivered to at least two newspapers which newspapers shall be designated by the public body to receive such notices because they have the greatest likelihood of informing the public within the area of jurisdiction of the public body of such meetings, one of which shall be the official newspaper, where any such has been designated by the public body or if the public body has failed to so designate, where any has been designated by the governing body of the political subdivision whose geographic boundaries are coextensive with that of the public body and (3) filed with the clerk of the municipality when the public body’s geographic boundaries are coextensive with that of a single municipality, with the clerk of the county when the public body’s geographic boundaries are coextensive with that of a single county, and with the Secretary of State if the public body has Statewide jurisdiction.
After two years of this nonsense, I’m through being nice here. Get the damn public notice in the two newspapers! It’s not just your job, Ms. Cavanagh, it’s STATE LAW. And for good reason.
At its core, the Open Public Meetings Act is a set of state laws intended to protect the interests of the taxpayer. A governing body which does not fully comply with the law is in effect denying citizens their right to informed participation in public matters that involve their own money.
We’ll get back to that soon enough. For now, let’s move on, because this isn’t even where the real deception transpires in this meeting.
FYI, this meeting begins with the Council going into private session with Darlene Green from Maser Consulting, without having announced it on their agenda.
Update: I’ll be following up on this post with a separate article releasing the Council’s Fair Share Housing Plan that we recently acquired. Since for 12 months the Council has left the public out of this discussion, I’m going to make sure you’re brought up to speed on it.
NorthJersey.com has published their coverage of the meeting: