ALLENTOWN – The school board will provide the public with more information regarding its closed sessions due to a resident complaint.
Upper Freehold resident Richard Edgar made a complaint concerning the Upper Freehold Regional Board of Education’s specificity regarding executive sessions, to John Paff, chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Party’s Open Government Advocacy Project. Paff sent a letter of complaint to the board onApril 29 and received a response from the board on May 1 stating that it would be more informative in the future.
“I was trying to find the history of the school board’s actions concerning random drug testing,” Edgar said. “I was not able to find much at all on the topic in any of theirminutes. I found that they often are very vague for the reasons as going into executive session and sometimes don’t give a reason at all.”
In his letter to the board on Edgar’s behalf, Paff asked the board to consider amending the formof resolution it uses to go into executive session.
Paff gave examples of the board’s motions to enter into executive session from February 20 and March 19 and said statements such as, “The motion was made by Mr. Anthony and seconded by Mrs.Hogan tomove into closed session to discuss legal matters at 11:45 p.m.” were typical.
He said the board’s typical motions to enter into closed session were deficient as they ignored the requirement set forth in N.J.S.A. 10:4-13b, which states that closed session resolutions should note “as precisely as possible, the time when and the circumstances under which the discussion conducted in closed session of the public body can be disclosed to the public.” He also noted that the motions don’t give the public much information on topics being privately discussed.
Paff suggested that the board bemore descriptive than simply stating “legal matters” and “contractual matters” as reasons for entering closed session. He asked the board to list docket numbers with regard to legal matters and company names with regard to contractual matters.
“This way, the public is better informed of the topics being discussed, but the board’s negotiation position or litigation strategy is still preserved,” he wrote in the letter.
Paff recommended the board use a resolution from Delanco Township in Burlington County, which asks governing bodies to relate the provisions they are relying upon to go into executive session and to note any contracts, litigation, contract negotiations or employees being discussed in closed session. He also suggested the board create a link on its Web site that the public could use to make official records requests.
Superintendent of Schools Dick Fitzpatrick and BusinessAdministrator Viola Yosifon were receptive to Paff’s requests and suggested them to the board at its April 30 meeting.
Yosifon told the board it would be a good idea to incorporate the Delanco Township resolution as part of its closed session motion as it not only provides the public with more information but also gives the board a checklist to see what issues apply to executive session.
Fitzpatrick said Paff ‘s request encouraged the board tomodify its practices “so the public has access to information it should have access to without compromising confidentiality.”
Fitzpatrick also said that the board would go a step further toward efficiency by approving its executive session minutes each quarter.
Yosifon said the board could approve the minutes without having to make them public until it passed another motion to do so.
Yosifon wrote in a letter to Paff on May 1, “Beginning with last night’smeeting, the Upper Freehold Regional Board of Education intends to use the executive resolution used by Delanco Township as part of our regular agenda,” she wrote.
She also sent Paff a copy of the school district’s public records request forms.
In response to the board’s actions regarding the issue, Edgar said, “I’m hopeful fromtheir letter that they will bemore descriptive as to their reason for going into executive session than they have been in the past.”