Can it be that the very first act of the City Council post-Ray Blanco was to violate the Sunshine Law?
Seems that may be the case.
After the crowd of sixty or so were made to wait in the rotunda until about 8:30 PM for the beginning of yesterday's Agenda session, attendees found that the meeting began with the new Council officers ALREADY IN PLACE.
(Bernice reported on this in her Courier story ("Plainfield council picks new president in Monday meeting") this morning, without further comment.)
It was announced that Rayland Van Blake had been elected "President pro-tem" and Linda Carter "Chair pro-tem of the commmittee of the whole."
PT was thunderstruck. That meant the Council had taken action to elect officers DURING THE EXECUTIVE SESSION, OUT OF SIGHT OF THE PUBLIC?
Wouldn't that be a violation of the Sunshine Law (Open Public Meetings Act, NJSA 10:4)?
The Sunshine Law lists nine categories of business that can be discussed out of view of the public:
- those considered confidential by law or court ruling;
- those where release of information would impair receipt of federal funds;
- material constituting an unwarranted invasion of privacy;
- those relating to collective bargaining agreements;
- those relating real estate matters, banking rates or investments using public funds
- matters regarding protecting the safety and property of the public;
- matters of litigation and attorney-client privilege;
- personnel matters;
- deliberations after a public hearing that may incur a fine, suspension or loss of license or permit
PT's understanding is that election of officers by the governing body is PUBLIC business. So why wasn't it done in front of the public? Or maybe PT is mistaken, in which case enlightenment is awaited.
Interestingly, this morning's Courier also included a story ("Prosecutor chides Bedminster committee") about the Somerset County prosecutor lambasting the Bedminster township committee over possible Sunshine Law violations -- for conducting business out of sight of the public.
PT doesn't blame the Councilors for this lapse, if it is one. But who is advising them?
And what is the "pro-tem" business about? Usually, it means the officer in question is not present for the meeting and a member of the body is serving FOR THAT MEETING in the officer's place.
Does that mean the Council will reorganize itself on Wednesday, after they wrestle with selecting someone to replace Ray Blanco from among the three names submitted by the Dem City Committee?
And who will conduct the opening of Wednesday's meeting if there truly is no legitimate chair? The Clerk, acting as Secretary to the governing body -- as she does at the annual reorganization meeting?
Are we living in a world-class community or Rubesville?
As Mother Teresa said, "Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies."
-- Dan Damon
For reference, you may want to bookmark these useful links:
Sunshine Law: Vernon Township's "Guide to the Open Public Meetings Act" online (PDF).
Parliamentary Procedure: "Parliamentary Procedure Resources"
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