Can a public body block release of meeting minutes under OPRA simply by failing to approve them?

Governmental bodies are required to keep minutes of their public meetings under the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA), but release of those records is largely governed by the Open Public Records Act (OPRA). Though the OPMA requires that minutes be “promptly available,” court and GRC decisions have sanctioned long-term non-release of minutes on the grounds that they are not yet approved by the public body and are therefore exempt from disclosure as deliberative material. Thus, a person who files a complaint because minutes have not been made promptly available — still unavailable many years after a meeting in some cases — could win under OPMA but not OPRA, where only the latter provides for mandatory recovery of costs if a party prevails. That scenario could result in few enforcement actions being brought and in public bodies skirting the legal requirement to make meeting minutes promptly available.

But should a public body forever be able to avoid releasing its meeting minutes under the Open Public Records Act simply by avoiding its responsibility to formally adopt them? If so, the public will have no way to know if public bodies are keeping minutes at all. Is that what the Legislature intended?

In his appeal of Burlington County case “Paff v. Township of Moorestown,” open government advocate John Paff has asked the Appellate Division to consider this important issue.


NJ Open Government Notes
Appeal taken from Burlington County ruling that 3 year old unapproved meeting minutes are “deliberative” and thus not subject to OPRA
by John Paff
Aug. 1, 2017