NJ Supreme Court Redefines Meaning of “Agenda” Pertaining to Open Public Meetings Act
Aug 19, 2015 | Written by: Share|
The New Jersey Supreme Court recently decided a very important case for municipalities and other public entities in Opderbeck v. Midland Park Board of Education. In this case, the Court addressed and reversed the definition of the word “agenda” as used in the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA).
A Law Division Judge had previously ruled that the term "agenda," as used in OPMA, included not simply the list of items to be discussed but any additional attachments or supplemental documents mentioned in the agenda. This decision would have imposed a tremendous and confusing burden on Clerks. Furthermore, it could have created a potential trap for public agencies who neglected, through honest oversight, to post on the website all relevant documents. A disgruntled party could have then asserted that the failure to properly post the required documents voided actions taken at such a meeting.
The Supreme Court reversed the Law Division’s decision and defined “agenda” as simply a list or outline of things to be considered or done. This decision permits municipalities and other government agencies to abide by a much less onerous interpretation of the OPMA.
21-2-7673 Opderbeck v. Midland Park Board of Education,App. Div. (Fuentes, P.J.A.D. ) (26 pp.) In this appeal we are asked to construe the term "agenda" as used in the "adequate notice" requirements imposed on public bodies by the Open Public Meeting Act (OPMA), a/k/a the Sunshine Law. The OPMA does not define the term "agenda." The Law Division construed the term "agenda" to include the attachments and supplemental documents mentioned therein and, as a result, permanently enjoined the Midland Park Board of Education to post on its website copies of any appendices, attachments, reports, and other documents referred to in its agenda. We reverse and construe the term "agenda" by giving it its plain, ordinary meaning: a list or outline of things to be considered or done. This definition of "agenda" is also consistent with the definition of the term contained in a formal advisory opinion issued by the Attorney General shortly after the Legislature adopted the OPMA, and has guided public bodies on the meaning of "agenda," as used in N.J.S.A. 10:4-8(d), for nearly forty years. (Approved for Publication)
Richard P. Cushing, Esq., is a trial and municipal lawyer who specializes in complex litigation, land use matters, employment law, and the representation of public entities, corporations and insurance companies. Contact Mr. Cushing at 908-735-5161 or via email.