Democracy Flourishes In The Sunshine

by Michael M. Shapiro

Governing bodies throughout New Jersey, particularly on the municipal level, are abusing The Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) and the Open Public Records Act (OPRA). The purpose of these Acts is to enhance democracy by allowing the public to see government in action rather than permitting the government to operate behind closed doors. While some municipalities televise their meetings or otherwise record them, many do neither so there is no true record of what occurs at most public sessions. In addition, while minutes of these meetings are public documents under the law and must be available to its citizens, there is no requirement that the minutes be thorough or that they accurately reflect the meeting they are supposed to memorialize. Too often a citizen who requests documents, including resolutions and ordinances, is routinely given the runaround until he rescinds his request. In addition, there are few vehicles for the public to use when an OPRA request is denied by a governing body. Fortunately, change may be in the air.

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