The Open Public Meetings Act, also known as OPMA or the Sunshine Law, protects “the right of the public to be present at all meetings of public bodies, and to witness in full detail all phases of the deliberation, policy formulation, and decision making of public bodies” such as the Jersey City Board of Education. The law, enacted in 1975, also provides that “adequate notice” be given to the public about meetings and that agenda and minutes of meetings be promptly made available to the public.
The board voted at its January meeting to limit the time members of the public can speak at meetings.
The suit contends that the board failed to give adequate notice of the change to allow public participation in the change of policy and failed to provide minutes of the meetings at which the board made the changes.
The suit alleged that board members or the school administration had met in secret at some point prior to the vote to discuss the change.
“The Public Comments item was originally on the Jan. 16 agenda that was published to the JCBOE website just days prior to the meeting but then omitted from the agenda distributed on January 16 without notice or explanation,” the suit claims, adding that the minutes for Jan. 14 and Jan. 16 were still unavailable at the time of the filing of the lawsuit.
“This lawsuit unequivocally shows that the Jersey City Board of Education violated the law and violated the public’s trust,” commented Lorenzo Richardson, a BOE candidate who ran for a seat last November with the Children First team. “The people of Jersey City have a right by law to fully participate in the decisions and policy-making of this board as it pertains to our children and the $600 million budget at the board’s disposal. The court must enforce that the Jersey City Board of Education immediately rectifies this illegal action and bring the Public Comments policy before the public with proper notice and with the intent to approve a policy that will uphold the public’s freedom of speech and rights under the law.”
The plaintiffs, who are all parents of Jersey City Public School children, are asking the court to void the board’s vote on the Public Comments policy, declare that the Jersey City Board of Education did indeed “violate the law” and provide injunctive relief to prevent future violations of the OPMA law by the Jersey City Board of Education.