Mason reaches settlement with school board
One last press release for this subject. It is a joint statement released by Hoboken Board of Education President Theresa Minutillo and 2nd Ward Councilwoman Beth Mason:
“There has been a settlement agreement respecting various litigations among Elizabeth Mason, the Board of Education of the City of Hoboken and David Anthony in his capacity as Secretary of the HBOE.
The Hoboken BOE, Mr. Anthony and Ms. Mason acknowledge that in the years preceding the litigations there have been violations of the Open Public Meetings Act and the Open Public Records Act in connection with HBOE’s conduct of those meetings, including those of August 30 and September 5, 2005, its production of records, and in its making the records of those meetings accessible to the public. The HBOE and Mr. Anthony also acknowledges that they have at times not produced timely minutes in accordance with law, and the HBOE acknowledges Ms. Mason’s efforts in raising those issues for the pubic good.
Ms. Mason acknowledges that the Board has become more sensitive to compliance with OPMA and OPRA, and that the Board has appointed a new Superintendent and new in-house Counsel and through their efforts, has considered new policies concerning videotaping of public meetings in compliance with the OPMA and OPRA and in its general overall procedural compliance, as evidenced by the appointment of a new Superintendent and review of procedures by new in-house counsel, and has increased openness and transparency of public meetings for broadcast on local cable television, considered the adoption of new policies concerning the taping of public meetings in accordance with law and the purchase and the imminent installation of a new sound system as requested by the Superior Court.
Both Ms. Mason and the HBOE are happy to have a resolution to these past issues.”
Read previous updates after the jump.
2/29/2008 Press Release:
Another press release sent out yesterday.
Mason’s suit forces settlement
Board admits violations and will have a mentor for six months
City residents will have greater access to school board records thanks to an agreement hammered out between Second Ward Councilwoman Beth Mason and the City Board of Education.
The agreement stems from a 2005 lawsuit brought by Mason over the school board’s failure to provide public documents and its conduct of meetings in violation of the state’s Open Public Meetings Act (the Sunshine Law)
The board now admits, as part of the settlement — that it failed to comply with the OPMA and the Open Public Records Act and that it failed to produce minutes of meetings, some of them held behind closed doors.
The settlement also requires that the school board retain a “mentor” who will oversee the actions of Board Secretary David Anthony for a period of six months. The mentor, a former school board official or retired judge, will assist the board secretary in the preparation of documents and agendas in accord with OPRA and OPMA, ensuring that documents are available to the public on a timely basis. Additionally the settlement requires the Board Secretary to attend training sessions on OPRA and OPMA and on the state’s laws regarding destruction of documents. The board must also audio-tape all open public meetings; t he tapes will be available as part of the public record.
CONTINUE READING THE REST AFTER THE JUMP.
Mason initially sought documents in 2005 to get information about school board contracts, a retirement package for former Superintendent of Schools and a tenure agreement with current Board Secretary. She also sought documents on a contract hiring the former school superintendent as a consultant to the school board. Mason also requested information on other financial arrangements involving the school board.
After doggedly pursuing the information for months, Mason was forced to file a lawsuit to get the documents she sought. Part of the agreement requires the school board to turn over this information that Mason originally sought in her OPRA request.
A victory for children and parents
Mason said the settlement is another victory for the children, parents and taxpayers of Hoboken, who seldom have knowledge of lucrative contracts and financial arrangements entered into by local government officials.
“I am very pleased that residents and the parents of school children in this city will now be able to have the information they need to monitor the spending and hiring practices of the Board of Education,” said Mason.
The councilwoman said that although most of the city schools’ funding comes from the state government, “that doesn’t mean we can allow money to spent foolishly.”
Mason noted that with sever economic times ahead for New Jersey, “we cannot count on an ever flowing fountain of funds coming to Hoboken from Trenton. Therefore, we have to begin the process of trimming wasteful spending and making sure that school dollars go to the kids in the classroom,”
Mason, who has used the state’s OPRA law as the basis to obtain information from the city, said her objective in each case has been the same. “I am merely trying to get the government information that I am entitled to as a citizen,” said Mason.
“It is impossible to make government more accountable and financially responsible if the citizens are denied information to monitor public officials and public bodies,” added Mason, who initiated her government records requests prior to being elected to the city council in May 2007.