Lawsuit alleges deficiencies with minutes, meeting notices in Spotswood


Staff Writer

SPOTSWOOD — When it comes to the status of minutes from dozens of public and nonpublic meetings, the Spotswood Board of Education (BOE) will need to have a better answer than “the dog ate it.”

The New Jersey Foundation for Open Government (NJFOG), a nonprofit that promotes transparency in government, has filed a lawsuit against the BOE over an alleged failure to comply with the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) and Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA).

Filed in August, the four-count complaint alleges that the BOE violated OPRA through a failure to provide minutes from meetings in a timely fashion and violated OPMA by failing to pass sufficient resolutions authorizing executive (nonpublic) sessions, taking minutes that are not “reasonably comprehensible” and not properly recording in the minutes how adequate notice of the meeting was given.

NJFOG is seeking access to minutes from more than 40 public meetings of the school board as well as a requirement that the board keep better minutes; adopt an ordinance describing topics to be discussed during executive session; prevent meetings unless adequate notice has been given and appropriately described in the minutes; and legal fees.

According to NJFOG’s Vice President Walter Luers, the nonprofit routinely sends out OPRA requests to various school boards and governmental bodies at the county and municipal levels so information is readily accessible to the public, and if it is not, they initiate legal proceedings.

On July 7, NJFOG filed an OPRA request with Spotswood’s BOE for minutes from eight nonpublic meetings and the resolutions that authorized them as well as minutes from 57 public meetings. According to the nonprofit, the minutes it received did not comply with OPRA’s “reasonably comprehensible” standard and failed to point out the time and place of meetings, the members present or specify how adequate notice of the meeting was given — all of which are OPMA requirements.

“We’re not targeting Spotswood because it’s Spotswood,” Luers said. “The lawsuit was brought because of the deficient quality of the response.”

The lawsuit names the Spotswood BOE as well as Business Administrator and Board Secretary Vita Marino. Marino did not respond to inquiries for comment.

An initial hearing date has been set for Sept. 28 before Middlesex County Assignment Judge Travis L. Francis in New Brunswick.

While this is NJFOG’s first case in Middlesex County to date, since 2014 the nonprofit has brought successful lawsuits against three public agencies: the Little Egg Harbor Fire District No. 3, the Island Heights Board of Education and the Trenton Board of Education.