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The Lakewood Township Committee continues to insist that they are permitted to hold their meetings, which are subject to the provisions of the New Jersey Open Public Meetings Act, virtually.

However, it appears that the New Jersey State Legislature disagrees.

The Township Clerk claims that the Open Public Meetings Act permits meetings to be held by communication equipment at any time, even prior to the health emergency. 

During the public health emergency many municipalities availed themselves of these provisions and the Governor, via an executive order, gave additional guidance on how virtual meetings should be conducted. Although the health emergency has concluded the Township is permitted to continue to follow that guidance, the Clerk further claims.

Mayor Ray Coles has also stated numerous times that holding meetings virtually affords residents more opportunity to participate as they can submit public comments via email prior to the meeting as well. Additionally, holding meetings virtually benefits committee members who can attend even when they are not in town, for example Deputy Mayor Menashe Miller who is currently on deployment.

However, pending Stare legislation appears to disagree.

The Senate State Government, Wagering, Tourism & Historic Preservation Committee recently advanced Bill S2603.

The bill states that under current law, remote meetings, voting, and public comment are only permitted during a state of emergency, public health emergency, or state of local disaster emergency.

This bill, if signed into law, would removes that restriction and permit a public body to conduct a meeting and public business, cause a meeting to be open to the public, vote, and receive public comment by means of communication or other electronic equipment.

A "public body” is defined under the “Senator Byron M. Baer Open Public Meetings Act” to be a commission, authority, board, council, committee... collectively empowered as a voting body to perform a public governmental function affecting the rights, duties, obligations, privileges, benefits, or other legal relations of any person, or collectively authorized to spend public funds.

As the bill remains pending in the Legislature, it is not yet law. Therefore, we can rely on the "current law" which this bill clearly says is that "remote meetings, voting, and public comment are only permitted during a state of emergency, public health emergency, or state of local disaster emergency."

So, it appears that currently, the Lakewood Township Committee does not have legal rights to hold meetings virtually (unless perhaps, they claim that they are in a "state of local disaster emergency.")

As previously reported here on FAA News, pending litigation which seeks to overturn the Township's banquet hall ordinance alleges that the Committee meetings which were held virtually, were in violation of the New Jersey Open Public Meetings Act.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Now we know why the committee has been working so hard to create traffic disasters all across town. It’s because they want to qualify to hold remote meetings..