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Legal Q & A

 

The Videotaping of Meetings and Fees for Ceremonies


Deborah M. Kole
League Staff Attorney
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Deborah M. Kole, League Staff Attorney

Q One of our residents, who frankly is a bit of a gadfly, appeared at our last municipal meeting with videotaping equipment. We let him videotape the meeting, because the municipal attorney said we had to do so. Afterwards, one of the residents complained about the videotaping, because he did not want to appear on this gentleman’s “home movies,” as he put it. Is there anyway we can protect the privacy of members of the public at such meetings and prevent the disruption of meetings by such activities?

A New Jersey case law makes it clear that you cannot prohibit a member of the public from videotaping the municipal meeting. In the case of Tarus v. Pine Hill, Docket No.a-93-05(2007), the New Jersey Supreme Court said “…we hold that, subject to reasonable restrictions, members of the public have a common law right to videotape municipal proceedings in New Jersey. Our conclusion is supported by an interwoven tapestry of jurisprudence and policy that demonstrates both the value of open government and the right to document governmental proceedings.” As for concerns over the privacy of members of the public, the Court said “Although some citizens may be fearful of video cameras, we find that consideration insufficient to deny the right to videotape. Further, no right of privacy protects a citizen’s public comments.”

However, the Court did find that the common law right to videotape public meetings is neither absolute nor unqualified. A public body may impose reasonable guidelines to ensure the videotaping is not disruptive to the meeting or to the other citizens’ right of access to and participation in that meeting.

The court indicated that such guidelines can include restrictions on the number and positioning of cameras, lighting, and the location of the person operating the equipment. They can also include restrictions designed to control noise levels and prevent damage to public facilities. Any guidelines must be as narrow in scope as possible to accomplish these goals. Furthermore, they must be established and applied in a neutral fashion

 

 

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Q What are the rules concerning fees for mayors performing weddings or civil unions?

A The mayor may collect fees for performing marriage and civil union ceremonies provided that the municipality adopts an ordinance fixing the fees in accordance with N.J.S.A. 40:48-1. The fees must be deposited into the current fund, payable to the municipality. This ordinance may provide that these funds be paid out to the mayor as additional salary and/or reimbursement for out-of-pocket expenses.

If the funds are to be used as reimbursement for expenses, the authorization for the provision of reimbursement would be established by ordinance with fees to be charged in accordance with an established schedule, i.e., for mileage, and for direct cost reimbursement for other expenses documented by receipts. Fees must be made payable to the municipality, collected by the mayor, deposited in the municipal current fund, and the reimbursement provided by voucher with appropriate documentation, authorization and expenditure from the appropriate budget line item.
An ordinance is not required for a mayor to suggest to a party that a voluntary contribution may be made directly to a charitable organization in honor of the ceremony. However, the mayor cannot require a contribution or designate a specific charity. Neither can he or she direct a donation to a local trust fund that donates its funds to many charities.

If a fee is established by ordinance, the funds received may then be directed to a separate recreation trust set up to give “donations” to recreation programs. This fund must be distinct from a municipality’s “normal” recreation trust fund set up to accept user fees. The marriage and civil union fees cannot go into an already established recreation trust because that trust is self-liquidating and exists solely for user fees coming into the recreation program.

If fees are directed to such a separate recreation fund, all of the fees collected must go there. Such fees cannot be split between the trust fund and the mayor. The fund can be established by resolution under 40A:4-39, which permits a rider, and 40A:5-29, which permits the community to accept donations. It should then be submitted to the Division of Local Government Services for approval. The fee ordinance must establish a fee and note that pursuant to resolution #____ the fees shall be deposited into the “separate” recreation trust fund

This column is for informational purposes only, and is not intended as legal advice.

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