Private meeting held without public notice to discuss DRPA emails lost despite federal investigators’ order to preserve them
Reported August 9, 2014 by Philly.com
Summary of article:
The U.S. Attorney’s Office has been investigating DRPA for over a year, focusing on the hundreds of millions the agency has spent on economic development for projects unrelated to transportation.
In March 2013, federal investigators instructed DRPA to preserve documents and communications, including emails that have since gone missing. In June, DRPA officials said that the loss of the e-mails was inadvertent and blamed faulty software. Officials then met privately last month to discuss what is described only as “a legal matter.”
DRPA officials claim no public notice was required for the meeting, but at least one DRPA commissioner disagrees. Open government advocates say DRPA’s actions fell short of the spirit of government transparency.
NJFOG president Walter Luers is quoted in the article:
Because the DRPA is a bistate agency with representatives from both Pennsylvania and New Jersey, it is not necessarily subject to open meeting laws in either state, said Walter M. Luers of the New Jersey Foundation for Open Government.
To enforce such laws on a bistate authority, Luers said, legislatures in both states would have to amend the laws.
Under New Jersey law, Luers said, government agencies are required to post notice of a meeting in advance, and notify at least two newspapers of the meeting.
Additionally, Luers said, the meeting must start as an open meeting for the public to attend before board members go into a closed session, citing reasons such as personnel or legal matters that can be discussed in private.
Any meeting not publicly posted that starts off behind closed doors is “certainly not consistent with the spirit of the law,” Luers said.
There is a bill in the New Jersey legislature, S2013, which would, among other reforms, make the Delaware River Port Authority subject to OPRA and OPMA in New Jersey as well as the public records and meetings laws in Pennsylvania. This bill is presently awaiting consideration by the Senate Transportation Committee. It has no identical Assembly counterpart.
There is a similar bill in the Pennsylvania legislature, bill S1358. Both states’ bills need to be passed and signed into law for either to become effective.
New Jersey bill (S2013):
Pennsylvania bill (S1358):