Exactly How Much Public Disclosure is Needed?
Yesterday our Supreme Court released its decision in
Francis J. McGovern, Jr., Esq. v. Rutgers, The State University. for some this was a much-anticipated decision because it dealt squarely with what constitutes “the general nature” of the meeting to be held in closed session as defined by New Jersey's Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA). The Rutgers Board of Governors noticed a special meeting which they intended to go into closed session. The purpose of the closed session meeting was to discuss,
“…matters involving contract negotiations for sports marketing, naming rights of athletic facilities and stadium construction; employment of personnel and terms and conditions of employment; and pending litigation, investigations, and matters falling within the attorney-client privilege with respect to these subjects.”
The Board of Governors convened and immediately passed a resolution to go into closed session. The plaintiff, Francis J McGovern, Jr., a lawyer and alumnus of Rutgers University, objected. Over the objection of Mr. Francis the Board of Governors when into closed session and Mr. Francis is lawsuit followed. Ultimately, the New Jersey Supreme Court court held the Board's resolution adopted at the special meeting satisfied N.J.S.A. 10:4-13 by advising of “the general nature” of what was to be discussed at the closed session. However, they also held notice of that meeting was not adequate under N.J.S.A. 10:4-8 because it did not include the proposed agenda for the meeting “to the extent known” at the time the notice was prepared. Despite being able to prove that the Rutgers Board of Governors did not properly give notice of the special meeting Mr Francis was not entitled to any relief. The court reasoned,
The issue thus becomes whether any perceived deficiency in the notice that the meeting of September 10 was to take place entitles plaintiff to a remedy. We are satisfied that it does not. The statute provides for three forms of remedy for an OPMA violation: a prerogative writs action seeking to void any action taken at a meeting that did not meet OPMA's requirements, N.J.S.A. 10:4-15; injunctive relief to assure future compliance, N.J.S.A. 10:4-16; and imposition of fines, N.J.S.A. 10:4-17.
For Mr. Francis, the net result of this case is a hollow victory. However, this case is important because it gives further definition as to how to specify the “general nature” of the meeting. Below are a few links to the popular media coverage of the McGovern decision: Philadelphia Inquirer:
Rutgers board broke open-meeting laws
N.J. Supreme Court: Rutgers board of governors did not violate law, but meetings should be more open