FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
New Jersey Foundation for Open Government, March 2021
New Jersey’s local governments, on average, are only 60 percent in compliance with the New Jersey Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA), according to a study released by the New Jersey Foundation for Open Government (NJFOG).
The OPMA, passed into law in 1975, has remained relatively unchanged over 45 years. The primary purpose of the OPMA is to conduct government meetings in public, keep a record of public meetings, and give the public adequate notice.
In what is the first statewide study of municipalities, local authorities and boards of education, the NJFOG examined municipal compliance with OPMA requirements. These are the: 1) special meeting notice requirements; 2) proper notice statement included in meeting minutes; 3) closed session resolutions; and 4) requirements of meeting minutes related to closed sessions.
The study found that no public entity was fully compliant with the OPMA.
As a group, municipalities were 54 percent compliant; local authorities were 44 percent compliant; and boards of education were 60 percent complaint.
“There is currently no mechanism within the OPMA that would allow citizens to easily bring enforcement actions to improve compliance,” said Walter Luers, NJFOG board member and one of New Jersey’s best known open government attorneys.
“Citizens can file complaints in the Superior Court, but few of them have the knowledge to file a pro-se lawsuit without legal representation and they don’t have financial means to hire an attorney,” said Luers. “Unfortunately, public bodies are aware of this and ignore the law with impunity. This is why the OPMA needs an enforcement mechanism to bring about compliance.”
“The findings of our extensive study demonstrate a clear and very troubling pattern. Governing bodies across the state are not respecting the rights of citizens to informed participation in public meetings,” said Lee Dorry, President of NJFOG. Dorry is also the founder of Essex Watch, a local government watchdog organization.
“Property taxes and the skyrocketing cost of living in New Jersey are on the minds of virtually every resident. Our Legislature must prioritize and enact meaningful amendments to OPMA to ensure transparency and accountability from our public officials,” said Dorry.
The data for the NJFOG study were collected in 2018. NJFOG intends to update the study findings in 2021.
A copy of the NJFOG OPMA Compliance Study is available here:
NJFOG OPMA Report FINAL