Sunshine Week 2007
Here’s the press release for this weeks event.
Let the Sun Shine on New Jersey:
Open Government Advocates Release Report on Failures of Open Meetings in New Jersey
For Immediate Release – March 14, 2007
Elizabeth Mason, NJ FOG President at (646) 339-2991
Suzanne Piotrowski at (973) 353-5093, ext. 20
The New Jersey Foundation for Open Government today released a report highlighting the weaknesses and strengths of the state Open Public Meetings Act, and some common-sense recommendations on how to change a “culture of secrecy.”
“Our report takes a penetrating look at where New Jersey stands on government transparency and public participation,” said NJFOG President Elizabeth Mason.
Fondly known as the “Sunshine Law,” the 1975 act conveys a spirit of transparent government, with public participation at the heart of the process. Over the years, though, poor practices have gained footholds because of limited enforcement of the current statue. Moreover, the advance of new technologies has raised questions not envisioned when the Legislature adopted the law three decades ago. The need for reform grows more pressing by the day.
Simply reworking old legislation will not be enough to create positive change. Along with re-evaluating the law, NJFOG calls for all levels of government to begin more systematic training for public employees and public officials concerning their obligations under the law. A plain-language guide would help public officials as well as the public.
“There is currently a wide variation in open public meetings practices in New Jersey,” said Suzanne Piotrowski, Ph.D., an assistant professor of public affairs and administration at Rutgers University-Newark. Piotrowski and Erin Borry, a candidate for a Master in Public Administration, wrote the report after studying the history of the act, comparing it to those in other states, and examining how it works in practice.
“To truly make meetings more accessible to the public, the culture of secrecy surrounding public meetings needs to be changed,” Piotrowski said. “This culture will not be changed with a new law alone. Training officials in their responsibilities and educating the public are absoluetly necessary steps.”
Among other things, the report recommends:
- Minutes should completely and accurately reflect what transpired at a meeting, and be released within an explicit time limit.
- Closed sessions should not be used for routine matters, and discussions must be limited to announced subjects.
- Notices and agendas should be timely and provide sufficient information for the public to know what will occur at a meeting.
- Regular allowance must be made for public comment during a meeting.
- In keeping with recent court decisions, the public must be allowed to video- or audio-tape meetings.
- Procedures for electronic meetings must be clear.
- Where violations occur, stricter sanctions should be imposed. When the public is forced to take legal action, the attorney fees should be recoverable.
NJFOG believes training should apply to anyone who serves on a public body, and to employees who deal with public requests for information. Additionally, NJFOG recommends the creation and distribution throughout the state of a plain-language guide to the Sunshine Law. The Legislature and Administration also should consider the creation of an oversight body or office with the power to enforce the law.
“Our hope is that our report will be helpful for municipalities when they examine their own meeting procedures,” Piotrowski said.
“As a next step, NJFOG will work with the Legislature and Administration to improve the law and ensure its enforcement,” Mason said.
The report is available online at: http://www.njfog.org/downloads/PartlyCloudyReport2007.pdf
Take a look at this event taking place next Monday down at Rutgers. Hoboken resident Beth Mason is the President of the NJ Foundation for Open Government.
In Celebration of Sunshine Week 2007
Closed Doors; Open Democracies?
Sponsored locally by:
New Jersey Foundation for Open Government
New Jersey League of Women Voters
School of Public Affairs and Administration, Rutgers-Newark
What: A dialogue on open government and secrecy.
The event consists of an interactive national program webcast from the National Press Club in Washington, DC, followed by a discussion of how transparency issues affect New Jersey residents. Visit www.sunshineweek.org and www.openthegovernment.org to learn more about Sunshine Week and the national event.
When: Monday, March 12, 2007 12:30pm- 3:00pm
Where: Rutgers University, Newark Campus, Room 449 of Conklin Hall, the corner of University Avenue and Bleeker Street.
See www.newark.rutgers.edu/maps for maps and directions to campus. This event falls during spring break, so parking near campus should be better than usual.
The first national “Sunshine Week: Your Right to Know” was launched in March 2005 and will be celebrated in 2007 from March 11-17. Sunshine Week’s intent is to raise awareness of the importance of open government to everyone in the community, not just journalists. “Closed Doors; Open Democracies?” is brought to you in celebration of Sunshine Week by the American Association of Law Libraries, American Library Association, Association of Research Libraries, League of Women Voters, National Coalition Against Censorship, National Freedom of Information Coalition, OpenTheGovernment.org, Special Libraries Association, Sunshine Week, and Union of Concerned Scientists.
If you have questions about the event contact Suzanne J. Piotrowski, Assistant Professor of Public Affairs and Administration, Rutgers-Newark at email@example.com.
RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org