A recent exchange between NJFOG’s John Paff and the Borough of Leonia, a Bergen County borough with a population of about 9000, concerns the municipality’s various shortcomings with regard to the Open Public Meetings Act.
Paff was notified by resident Roland Weimer about a letter from Borough Attorney Douglas M. Bern that claimed that minutes from the Borough Council’s January 22, 2014 and April 7, 2014 closed session meetings had been lost. In response to Paff’s follow up, Administrative Assistant Lynn Hemmer stated that the two sets of minutes had not been lost and that she was not sure why Bern said they were.
This is a rather odd turn of events, and, at a minimum, it emphasizes the need for better record keeping and improved compliance with the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA). The municipality’s OPMA shortfalls as spelled out in Paff’s correspondence — including non-compliant meeting minutes and closed session resolutions — support the need for Meetings Act reform, including stronger enforcement provisions. As it is, OPMA “enforcement” depends on a citizen like John Paff or an organization like NJFOG filing a civil action.
Leonia’s new Mayor, Judah Zeigler, whose term began January 1 and whom Paff reached out to directly and whom Senator Weinberg also reached out to because Leonia falls within her legislative district, has pledged to substantially improve OPMA compliance. Zeigler wrote:
“Mr. Paff: Thank you for your correspondence to the 2015 Governing Body; as a former Mayor and Councilperson, I am both well-versed in the requirements of the OPRA and the OPMA, and am committed to ensuring that Leonia’s Borough government not only meets the requirements of the applicable statutes, but can be looked upon as a “best in class” example of government transparency and leadership in this important area.
I will be scheduling this matter for discussion at the first work session of 2016, and welcome your continued direct engagement with me on this or any other matter.”