While new technology like e-mail and social media makes it easier for government officials to communicate with colleagues, it can also lead to inadvertent violations of the New Jersey’s Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA). As a result, many municipalities are amending their public meeting rules to specifically address electronic communications.
Under New Jersey’s open meeting law, the public must be given notice of a public meeting as well as the opportunity to attend. OPMA defines a meeting as “any gathering whether corporeal or by means of communication equipment, which is attended by, or open to, all of the members of the public body, held with the intent, on the part of the members of the body present, to discuss or act as a unit upon the specific public business of that body.”
Under this definition, a chain of e-mails or text messages between members of a governing body could be construed as a meeting, particularly with the ease of simply hitting “reply all.” In this case, any action taken via email or text could be invalidated for violating OPMA.
Given these risks, many New Jersey municipalities are making sure their public officials are clear on the rules by defining communication equipment to include “electronic equipment through email, text message, social media, or any other similar device.” They are also establishing policies discouraging e-mail communications between an effective majority of a governing body, particularly where they discuss information related to the business of the municipality.
For more information about OPMA and the digital age, please contact me or the Scarinci Hollenbeck attorney with whom you work.