At its November 8, 2021 meeting, the Downe Township (Cumberland County) Committee adopted Res. R-107-2021 that settled my lawsuit that sought to require the Committee to better comply with the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA).
The lawsuit, John Paff v. Downe Township Committee, Docket No. CUM-L-637-21 (PDF here and MS Word here), sought two different types of relief. First, it sought to require the Committee, as required by the OPMA, to specifically describe the topics it discusses in nonpublic (i.e. closed or executive) session. From looking the Committee’s previous nonpublic resolutions and meeting minutes, I found examples of the closed topics being described very generally (e.g. “Matters relating to personnel, possible litigation, land acquisition, and contract negotiations in which the public body may become a party.”) Such vague descriptions do not give the public any real sense of what the Committee is privately discussing.
Second, the OPMA requires all public business to be discussed in public unless the topic falls squarely within one of nine enumerated exceptions set forth in the law. I found several examples of the Committee discussing routine business, such as receipt of a thank you note and authorizing an LED streetlight change in closed session.
The Consent Judgment is on-line here.
Unlike the Open Public Records Act (OPRA), the OPMA does not have an attorney fee-shifting provision that requires public bodies who violate the law to pay the attorney fees of the citizen who sues to enforce it. Because of this, OPMA violations are plentiful and OPMA enforcement lawsuits are rare.
This is the second time I’ve worked with Downe on OPMA matters. On May 4, 2012, I threatened to sue the Township for not making its meeting minutes promptly available to the public. The Township resolved this threatened litigation by passing a curative resolution.