“You’re in violation of the Open Public Meetings Act,” Republican Councilwoman Carrol McMorrow said. “It was not advertised properly and you’re in violation.”
The advertisement said the special meeting was being held to discuss the 2012 budget and tax appeals. The advertisement also did not say there would be a closed session, which is normally where legal matters like pending tax appeals and personnel matters (like police interviews) would be held.
While Mayor Joseph Parisi and others agreed to not go into closed session and to instead discuss what they could in the open, they disagreed with McMorrow on the police matter because the law is vague.
The Open Public Meetings Act, also known as the “Sunshine Law” because it aims to shed light on government, requires 48 hours advance notice of meetings and a list of agenda items, “to the extent known.”
Council president Joseph Favaro pointed out that that clause would allow police issue to be added to the agenda and Mayor Joseph Parisi noted that no official action was being taken.
But airing on the side of caution, Parisi instead opened the meeting to the public and had the three police officer candidates and police dispatcher candidate briefly introduce themselves during public comment.
“Normally we would have interviews in private that would be closed, but we wanted to give the chief the opportunity to have the council meet some of the candidates that the police committee suggested,” he said.
The council did not discuss the officers or whether there was room for the additional salaries in the budget.
This is not the first time McMorrow has accused the Democrats of violating the law. In January she alleged that the Open Public Meetings Act was violated at two council meetings.
She said Parisi failed to open for public comment at the reorganization meeting in January, something Borough Attorney Carter Corriston confirmed was a violation. Parisi has repeatedly apologized saying it was an oversight.
She also alleged the law was violated during a special meeting in December, during which the council met to discuss the police contract.
McMorrow, whose husband is deputy police chief, did not attend the meeting, but she said was later notified that the council discussed the resignation of Building Subcode Official Brian Ribarro. Corriston investigated and found that was mentioned by the borough administrator to only two council members in passing prior to the start of the meeting and therefore the law was not violated.
John Paff, chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Party’s Open Government Advocacy Project, has also been keeping tabs on Englewood Cliffs, particularly the council’s lack of meeting meetings and has launched a blog about his efforts.