Wednesday, October 5, 2016
Lawrence Twp. Council and Board of Ed. charged with OPMA & OPRA violations
For immediate release
October 5, 2016
Lawrence Township Board of Education and Municipal Council have both been taken to court for allegedly running afoul of the state's open public meetings and records laws.
Filed this September in Mercer County Superior Court as separate actions (docket numbers MER-L-1831-16 and MER-L-1832-16, respectively), the lawsuits are the latest two brought by the New Jersey Foundation for Open Government (NJFOG) to improve governmental compliance with the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) and Open Public Records Act (OPRA).
The initial hearing in both cases is scheduled for November 29, 2016, at 10:00 AM and 11:00 AM, respectively, before Judge Mary C. Jacobson in Trenton. The hearings will address OPRA counts, with OPMA counts heard at a later date.
NJFOG began to file lawsuits against public agencies in 2014 for what the organization views as significant violations of the OPMA and OPRA laws. The two new cases follow NJFOG's successful OPMA/OPRA lawsuit against the Trenton Board of Education in Mercer County in 2015 and will be heard by the same judge who presided over the Trenton case.
"We are following up now by reviewing other Mercer County agencies in the wake of the Trenton School Board decision, which should have put other offices in the county on alert," said NJFOG president John Schmidt.
Both Lawrence Township entities were sent warning letters two years ago explaining the deficiencies, but NJFOG’s more recent review of their practices showed ongoing non-compliance with the OPMA and OPRA statutes.
"Ideally, public bodies would self-correct their own behavior when they learn that a neighboring town has been taken to court. That's the ripple effect we're looking for," added John Paff, NJFOG treasurer as well as chairman of the organization's Affirmative Litigation Committee.
NJFOG is represented by attorney Anthony H. Ogozalek, Jr. of Cinnaminson.
The New Jersey Foundation for Open Government (NJFOG) is the only non-profit organization in the state dedicated solely to improving public access to governmental records and meetings. We work to educate the public about the Open Public Records Act and Open Public Meetings Act as well as increase governmental compliance, transparency, and accountability.