||New Jersey Libertarian Party
Open Government Advocacy Project:
open letter to Dunellen Mayor and Council
- Mayor Seader and Dunellen Borough Council Members
As you know, I have previously asked the Council during public session to establish a written policy to ensure that the Council\'s discussions and decision-making are not done via e-mail and thus outside of public view. Specifically, in a July 11, 2011 letter, I expressed concern that the Council members still list their personal e-mail addresses (e.g. Yahoo and aol) on the Borough\'s web site making it very difficult, if not impossible, for the Borough to reliably retain those e-mails as required by state regulations. (For your ready reference, my July 11th letter is available on-line at ) Clearly, if e-mails are not being reliably retained by the Clerk, there is no way for the public to determine whether or not important decisions are being made via e-mail rather than during public meetings.
While the Council has expressed interest in adopting such an e-mail policy, it has not yet, to my knowledge, actually adopted one. And, the Borough council\'s web page, which I checked today, still lists personal e-mail addresses. See http://www.dunellenborough.net/mayor&council.html
Following is an editorial from yesterday\'s Press of Atlantic City regarding Lower Township\'s (Cape May County) proposed e-mail policy and lamenting that \"too many officials simply don\'t accept their duty under the Sunshine Law\" and that many wait until after a Sunshine violation occurs before adopting an e-mail use policy. I think that you\'ll agree that Dunellen shouldn\'t wait for a violation to occur, but should get out in front of this issue and adopt a preemptive policy.
I have OPRA\'d Lower Township\'s e-mail policy as well as others from around the state and will forward them to Clerk Robins upon receipt. Can the Mayor and Council commit to discussing this issue at its February 6, 2012 meeting and enacting a policy within a few months thereafter?
Thank you for your attention to this matter. I look forward to hearing from you.
John Paff, Chairman
New Jersey Libertarian Party\'s
Open Government Advocacy Project
---text of editorial
Sunshine law / Emails count, too
Tuesday, January 17, 2012 12:01 am
It\'s only a matter of time before you see a headline about some town council or school board violating the state\'s Open Public Meetings Act by conducting public business via text or Skype or Facebook or whatever new communications technology comes next to our cell phones and iPads.
The current culprit is email. The Lower Township Council has introduced an ordinance to clarify the use of email by officials. This comes after Cape May County Prosecutor Robert Taylor notified council members last summer that they had violated the open-meetings act, known as the Sunshine Law, when they used email to discuss township manager candidates in December 2010.
Holding discussions and making decisions via email is the same as doing this behind closed doors. It prevents the public from knowing what is going on and how decisions are being made. It cuts the people who pay the bills out of the loop.
To their credit, Lower Township Council members are now trying to ensure such violations won\'t happen again, by delineating how email can and cannot be used for public business.
The New Jersey State League of Municipalities says Lower Township is among the first towns in the state to address the issue. Most of the other towns that have passed email restrictions have done so after a Sunshine Law violation.
Rather than wait for this piecemeal approach, state legislators ought to clarify that discussions using email - or any other communication technology - fit the definition of public meetings and are covered by the Sunshine Law. Such legislation has been introduced in the past, but has not been adopted.
While email may be the problematic medium of the moment, the underlying issue is that too many officials simply don\'t accept their duty under the Sunshine Law.
Officials who want to circumvent the law will always find ways. Some have used phone calls or pre-meeting meetings. Too many bodies still go into closed sessions under flimsy pretenses, to avoid embarrassing discussions or just to keep arguments out of the public eye.
If our elected representatives truly understood that they work for the public, and that they must conduct the public\'s business in public, constant updates and clarifications of the Sunshine Law would be unnecessary.
Until that understanding is widespread, advocates for governmental transparency will have to keep chasing the latest technology.
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