Q In a previous article, you wrote that minutes from the executive sessions of public meetings should be just as “comprehensive” as minutes from the public sessions of public meetings. Are meeting minutes required to be comprehensive?
A No, they are not. Good catch. What the statute in question actually says, found at N.J.S.A. 10:4-14, is:
“Each public body shall keep reasonably comprehensible minutes of all its meetings showing the time and place, the members present, the subjects considered, the actions taken, the vote of each member, and any other information required to be shown in the minutes by law, which shall be promptly available to the public to the extent that making such matters public shall not be inconsistent with section 7 of this act.”
Note that the statute requires reasonably comprehensible minutes, not reasonably comprehensive minutes.
As for what entails comprehensible minutes, courts have found that this “does not mean word for word recitation of every event or a verbatim detailing of every public comment or objection.” Liebeskind v. Mayor and Mun. Council of Bayonne, 265 N.J.Super. 389, 400-401 (App. Div. 1993). Indeed, the statute “simply requires that what took place at the meeting and what final action was taken should be reflected in the minutes.” Id. Courts have found that the minutes must contain “sufficient facts and information to permit the public to understand and appraise the reasonableness of the public body's determination.” South Jersey Pub. Co., Inc. v. New Jersey Expressway Authority, 124 N.J. 478, 493 (1991). However, this should not be taken to mean that the public body is required to reveal the reasons why it took the legislative action that it did; they are not. Township of Bernards v. State, Dept. of Community Affairs, 233 N.J.Super. 1, 28, (App. Div.), certif. den. 118 N.J. 194-95, (1989).
Occasionally, an individual seeking to invalidate action taken a public meeting will claim that no stenographic record of the meeting was taken. Again, as indicated above, this is not required. Only reasonably comprehensible minutes are required
Q Our municipality recently changed our form of government. In doing so, we passed a new salary ordinance for town employees, including our elected officials. Some residents are attempting to use a referendum to overturn the salary ordinance, since the new ordinance under the new form of government pays some individuals more money than they received under the old form of government. Is this permissible ?
A Probably not. There is a state statute that permits residents to repeal an ordinance that increase salary through a referendum. Here is what N.J.S.A. 40:9-165 says:
Note that the statute refers to an increase in salary. Courts have found that this refers to the "salary increment to the holder of an existing office during the existence of that office under the existing form of government." That case, Myers v. Worrick, 182 N.J.Super. 117, (Law Div. 1981), essentially held that the statute does not apply to newly created offices. The only caveat is that this is a Law Division case, not an Appellate Division case, so it has limited value as a precedent.
"Where any such ordinance shall provide for increases in salaries, wages or compensation of elective officials or any managerial, executive or confidential employee, the ordinance or that portion thereof which provides an increase for such elective or appointive officials shall become operative in 20 days after the publication thereof, after final passage, unless within said 20 days, a petition signed by voters of such municipality, equal in number to at least 5 percent of the registered voters of the municipality, protesting against the passage of such ordinance, be presented to the governing body, in which case such ordinance shall remain inoperative unless and until a proposition for the ratification thereof shall be adopted at an election by a majority of the voters voting on said proposition."
This column is for informational purposes only, and is not intended as legal advice.