On August 7, 2012, Rockaway Township in Morris County approved 22 sets of meeting minutes. One set of meeting minutes was of a recent public session. However, all of the remaining 21 sets of meeting minutes described closed session meetings that occurred eight to twelve years ago. The oldest meeting minutes were from April 4, 2000 – twelve years ago. Three sets of minutes were from 2000; nine sets were from 2001; four sets dated from 2002; one set dated from 2003; and three sets hailed from 2004.
Under the Open Public Meetings Act (“OPMA”), meeting minutes for all municipal meetings must be drafted and approved “promptly.” In this State, Courts have interpreted that to mean that the meeting minutes must be drafted and approved by the next regularly scheduled meeting or within 30 days.
This is not a new problem for Rockaway Township. In August 2011, Rockaway Township was sued under OPMA because it had not drafted or approved executive session meeting minutes for 21 of the 24 executive session meetings that the Borough Council held between January 2009 and May 17, 2011. Draft meeting minutes had been prepared for three of those meetings, but only one set of the three had been approved. This allowed the Township Council, for all practical purposes, act in near total secrecy through their executive session meetings. That lawsuit resulted in a court order requiring Rockaway Township to draft and approve meeting minutes for all executive sessions held during that time period.
Some municipal clerks or attorneys may suggest that such delays are necessary because the minutes are confidential. However, here it is important to distinguish between approval of minutes and their disclosure. Minutes of all meetings (including closed or executive session meetings) must be drafted and approved within 30 days after the meeting. However, portions of the minutes may be redacted if permitted by law.
To put it simply, under OPMA, all minutes must be promptly drafted and approved; however, those portions that may be confidential should be redacted when they are disclosed.
(Disclosure: The author has, both currently and in the past, represented individuals in litigation against Rockaway Township, including in the lawsuit mentioned in this blog entry.)