Berkeley Heights Sunshine Act

January 19, 2017

Berkeley Heights Sunshine Act

Based on recent incidents where the Berkeley Heights Town Council has chosen to hide and confound important information that would provide the town with valuable insight,  I would like to present the Berkeley Heights Sunshine Act.   

This Ordinance is an extension of the Open Public Meetings Act.   The sole purpose of this Act is to increase the level of transparency in Berkeley Heights.    Transparency is an imperative ingredient for bi-lateral trust in the community and it allows citizens a better understanding of what their elected officials are working on and how their tax money is being spent. 

I have asked that this can be discussed on the Jan 24th, 2017 Berkeley Heights Town Council meeting.    Hopefully to be accepted into law.

Below is the entire Text of the Berkeley Heights Sunshine Act. 

  1. Short title: This Ordinance may be cited as the “Berkeley Heights Sunshine Act” and is referred to below as the “Act” and shall constitute a new chapter named "Public Meetings" under Title 2 "Administration of Personnel" of the Municipal Code.

  1. Findings: The people of the Township of Berkeley Heights find that good government depends on knowledgeable citizens who are able to observe and participate in government meetings to the maximum possible extent.  Such enables citizens to more effectively participate in public affairs, help determine governmental priorities and to hold their public officials accountable. Inadequate or delayed public access to meetings and information allows corruption to flourish undetected and unpunished. Government secrecy allows backroom deals to set public policy in the interest of the few rather than the many.  It is understood, accepted and intended by the people of the Township of Berkeley Heights that this Act will impose responsibilities upon the Township’s bodies, officials and employees greater than that which is required by the Open Public Meetings Act, N.J.S.A. 10:4-6 et seq.
  1. Scope: This Act shall apply to the Township Council, Planning Board, Zoning Board of Adjustment and each other body set forth in Title 2 of the Municipal Code that is subject to the provisions of the Open Public Meetings Act.  

  1. Agenda:  At least 48 hours prior to each meeting, each public body within the scope of this Act shall prominently post on the Township's Internet site its meeting agenda.  The agenda shall include the date, hour and location of the meeting and each individual item to be discussed or acted upon, and a brief description thereof, and shall identify the names of the parties to and approximate dollar amounts of any contracts, including employment contracts, to be discussed or acted upon. No public body shall act upon a matter that is not listed on the agenda for which notice was given 48 hours prior to the meeting except that a public body may, upon the affirmative vote of a majority of the members present at a meeting, add an item to the agenda for that meeting when necessary to deal with a matter of such urgency and importance that a delay for the purpose of providing adequate notice would likely result in substantial harm to the public interest, and provided that the minutes contain a statement that explains in detail: a) the reason for adding that item to the agenda, b) why the item did not appear on the agenda for that meeting, and c) why delaying consideration of the item would be likely to result in substantial harm to the public interest.  Whenever a public body publicly discloses an agenda pursuant to this subsection that includes a reference to an attachment, appendix, or other document that is a government record, the public body shall simultaneously make that attachment, appendix, or other document available to the public on Township's Internet site, and shall include within the agenda an easy to access hyperlink to that the attachment, appendix, or other document.
  1. Public Participation: Every public body within the scope of this Act shall provide a general public comment session near the beginning of each public meeting which provides each member of the public who wishes to address the public body at least five minutes to do so.

  1. Recording equipment:  No member of any public body within the scope of this Act shall, during a public meeting, communicate privately by means of communication equipment, including electronic mail, instant messaging or similar technologies.

  1. Closed or executive meetings:  Prior to excluding the public from a meeting, every public body within the scope of this Act shall pass a resolution which shall, in addition to the requirements of N.J.S.A.10:4-13, describe each topic to be privately discussed in as much detail as possible.  Such public bodies shall also record comprehensive minutes of its meeting, including those from which the public is excluded, showing, at a minimum, the time and place, the members present,  the subjects considered, the actions taken, including all motions made, the identities of the moving and seconding members, the vote of each member and each member’s stated reasons, if any, for his or her action or vote, the identity of each member of the public who spoke and a summary of what was said, and any other information required to be shown in the minutes by law.  Such minutes shall be posted on the Township's Internet site as soon as possible but not later than 60 days after the meeting, or by the second meeting of the public body occurring after the meeting for which minutes were prepared, whichever occurs later, to the extent that making such matters public shall not be inconsistent with N.J.S.A. 10:4-12.

At least quarterly, each public body subject to this Act shall conduct a review of the minutes of any previous meeting that occurred on or after January 1, 2016 and where any part has been withheld from public access. The review shall determine whether any parts of any such minutes that have been withheld from public access can now be made accessible to the public. If the public body determines that any part of previously withheld minutes can now be disclosed to the public, it shall make that part thereof accessible to the public on the Township's Internet site.

  1. Audio recordings:  Each public body within the scope of this Act shall cause audio recordings to be made of each of its public meetings and unedited versions of those recordings shall be made available on the Township's Internet site not later than the 5th business day following the meeting.

  1. Effective Date and Scope: This Act shall take effect on the sixtieth day after enactment and shall be published as required by law.
  1. Construction: This act is remedial and shall be liberally construed to effectuate its findings and purposes.
  1. Saving Clause: If any portion of this Act shall be declared to be unconstitutional, invalid or inoperative, in whole or in part, by a court of competent jurisdiction, such portion shall, to the extent that it is not unconstitutional, invalid or inoperative, remain in full force and effect, and no such determination shall be deemed to invalidate the remaining portions of this Act.
  1. Repealer: All ordinances inconsistent with the provisions of this Act are repealed to the extent of such inconsistency.