Citizens in the Township of Berkeley Heights (Union County) are collecting signatures to put the “Berkeley Heights Sunshine Act” as a referendum on the November 2017 general election ballot. The Act will require the Township Council, Planning and Zoning Boards and other public bodies to go beyond the transparency requirements of the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA).
Voters in municipalities, such as Berkeley Heights, that have adopted an Optional Municipal Charter Act of 1950 (Faulkner Act) or Walsh Act form of government may initiate such legislation and force it to a public vote by collecting signatures equal in number to ten-percent of the ballots cast in the most recent election where General Assembly members were selected. It’s a useful tool that allows voters to circumvent recalcitrant and entrenched local elected officials.
Specifically, the Act will require: a) that meeting agendas are fixed and publicized on-line at least 48 hours prior to the meeting, b) that all proposed contracts, resolutions and other documents referred to in a meeting agenda also be available on-line at least 48 hours prior to the meeting, c) provide a five-minute per person public comment session near the beginning of each meeting, d) prohibit members of the public body from texting during meetings, e) require detailed resolutions that precisely set forth the topics to be discussed during closed or executive session, f) comprehensive (as opposed to the “reasonably comprehensible” standard required by the OPMA) minutes of closed or executive sessions to be posted on-line within 60 days of the meeting, g) quarterly review of closed session minutes to determine if previously redacted material can be disclosed and h) on-line posting of every meeting’s audio by the fifth day after the meeting.
This is a worthwhile initiative and I urge readers to visit and “like” the Facebook page.
The Township has put a statement on its website opposing the “Berkeley Heights Sunshine Act” and accusing the citizens who are supporting the Act of “promulgating . . . inaccurate and at times scurrilous information” regarding the Township’s present transparency efforts.