November 26, 2006

Union County Prosecutor tells freeholders to do a better job of informing the public

Union County freeholder meetings will be a lot sunnier now that the freeholders have been told by Assistant Union County Prosecutor Ann Rubin to adhere to the Open Public Meetings Act by keeping more comprehensive meeting minutes as well as to pass resolutions at open meetings which would inform the public of what they will be discussing when they adjourn into Executive Session.

In a complaint filed with the Union County Prosecutor’s Office on March 27, 2006, the Union County Watchdog Association charged that the Freeholder Board had been routinely violating N.J.S.A. 10:4-13. That statute requires a public body, before going into closed or executive session, to first adopt a resolution, at a meeting to which the public shall be admitted: a. Stating the general nature of the subject to be discussed; and b. Stating as precisely as possible, the time when and the circumstances under which the discussion conducted in closed session of the public body can be disclosed to the public.

Rather than pass the required resolution, the Chairman of the Board would simply “call for a motion” to go into executive session which is then approved unanimously. As a result, the public is deprived of any knowledge of the topics that the Freeholders are privately discussing behind closed doors or when those discussions would be made public.

During a public meeting held on February 10, 2005 the freeholders simply “called for a motion” and without any further explanation adjourned into their private chambers to discuss, among other things, a tawdry sexual harassment law suit that had been filed a month prior, involving a freeholder who would be facing re-election that year and a county employee who he was allegedly having an extramarital affair with. The law suit was filed on January 26, 2005. N.J.S.A. 10:4-12 b. states “when a lawsuit has already been filed with the court and is, therefore, a matter of public record, there is no reason why the title of the case cannot be set forth in the resolution and in the Executive Session minutes”.

Instead what the minutes reflected in this matter was: Minutes redacted under Attorney-Client privileged communication in a matter involving on-going litigation.

If the freeholders were following the law that day, they would have passed a resolution and this resolution would have been recorded in the meeting minutes which would have stated:

RESOLUTION: 2005-123 Introduced by Chairman Sullivan, who moved for its adoption, seconded by Board Member X Be It Resolved by the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders that the Board met in private session from which the public shall be excluded, to discuss the following personnel matters: Alyssa Scala v. The County of Union, v. Rick Proctor, v. Denise Santiago…..

Rubin has also instructed the board to continually review and cross-reference the matters discussed in Executive Session so that the minutes can be updated in a timely fashion and the redacted portions of the minutes disclosed to the public to reflect with their current status. In a letter dated November 17, 2006 Rubin states “Based on my review of the minutes provided, there is a need for improvement in this area which can be accomplished through better communication between the Board and its counsel and those persons responsible for updating the Executive Session minutes and releasing them to the public. By copy of this letter, I am advising the County Counsel's Office of our position on this matter. I trust that County Counsel will act upon the contents of this letter and that further action in this regard will not be necessary."

The Union County Watchdog Association maintains that there should be better communication between the Board and the public. The Board has only recently started posting their regular meeting minutes on their tax-payer funded official website. They do not currently post their Executive Session minutes which we therefore, find it necessary to tediously post for them on our volunteer funded and staffed website.

A good open government practice would be for the Board to not only post their Executive Session minutes on their site but to indicate which minutes are redacted as well as indicate when they have been updated with new information.

In an open democratic society it shouldn’t take an independent watchdog group to monitor government meeting minutes to be sure that government is complying with the law and disclosing information to the public in a lawful manner.

View complaint to UC Prosecutors office by clicking HERE

View second correspondence to UC Prosecutor’s office by clicking HERE

View Executive Session minutes dated February 10, 2005 by clicking HERE

View Prosecutor’s response to UCWA complaint by clicking HERE

View previous post regarding the Freeholder Proctor/Scala sexual harassment law suit, by clicking: Dontcha wish your girlfriend was hot like me?

View previous post regarding Freeholder Rick Pric-tor and sexual harassment in Bloomfield: Freeholder Rick Pric-tor Appointed and elected twice with no mention of abusive history