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Sunday, February 12, 2017

KEAN FEDERATION OF TEACHERS, ET AL. VS. ADA MORELL, ET AL. A-5481-14T3


KEAN FEDERATION OF TEACHERS, ET AL. VS. ADA MORELL, ET AL.
A-5481-14T3
In this action in lieu of prerogative writs, plaintiffs alleged the Board of Trustees of Kean University violated the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) by delaying ninety-four days and fifty-eight days before releasing the minutes of two Board meetings. On cross-motions for summary judgment, the trial court found the Board violated the "promptly available" standard under N.J.S.A. 10:4-14 of the OPMA. This court affirms. The trial court issued a permanent injunction directing the University to release the Board minutes within forty-five days of each future meeting. This court vacates the injunction, but orders the Board to adopt a meeting schedule for academic year 2017-2018 that will enable it to make its meeting minutes available to the public within thirty to forty-five days, absent extraordinary circumstances.
In Rice v. Union Cty. Reg'l High Sch. Bd. of Educ., 155 N.J. Super. 64, 73 (App. Div. 1977), this court held public bodies were required to send affected employees reasonable advance notice to enable them to (1) make a decision on whether they desire a public discussion; and (2) prepare and present an appropriate request in writing. Here, the trial court ruled that absent any discussion of the employees' status during closed session, or any stated intention to engage in such discussion, the Board is not required to send a Rice notice to the affected employees.
This court now reverses and holds a public body is required to send a Rice notice to all affected employees any time it places on its agenda its intention to take action affecting these employees' employment status. The notice requirement in Rice is predicated on the presumption that members of public bodies will discuss personnel matters and deliberate before reaching an ultimate decision. Not sending a Rice notice stifles the Board's deliberative process, inhibits the robust discussion by individual Board members that the Supreme Court endorsed in S. Jersey Pub. Co. v. N.J. Expressway, 124 N.J. 478, 493 (1991), and creates the impression the Board has colluded to violate the OPMA. As authorized under N.J.S.A. 10:4-16, this court declares the actions concerning personnel matters taken by the Board of Trustees of Kean University at its December 6, 2014 meeting null and void.