Official Promises Journalists Will Retain Access

WESTFIELD, NJ – Bucking a statewide trend, the mayor has withdrawn TAPinto Westfield's official designation as an electronic news source to be noticed under the state’s Open Public Meetings Act but said the change will not impact its journalists’ access to public information.

Mayor Shelley Brindle in 2018 designated TAPinto Westfield as a news source for which notices and other matters are to be provided under OPMA, but at Thursday’s reorganization meeting said the town is dropping that designation.

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“I made the decision last year to add [TAPinto Westfield] in the hopes that we might be able to get some efficiencies through delivery of public announcements, et cetera,” Brindle said. “But unfortunately, those efficiencies aren’t being able to be realized until the state law changes, and I reconsidered including TAP because I didn’t want to be perceived as endorsing one specific outlet.”

Under the 1973 state law providing for open and public meetings, municipalities are required to designate at least two print publications as those that receive and publish paid notices of public meetings.

The town of Westfield has designated The Star-Ledger and The Westfield Leader as the publications to be provided the notices.

Recognizing the state law, which has not been updated since the 1970s is outdated, at least 24 New Jersey municipal governments, school boards and one county government by 2018 had added TAPinto news sites as outlets to receive notices.

Those entities included the Westfield Board of Education, the Clark Township Council, the Raritan Township Committee, the Roselle Borough Council and the Union City Council. The Bloomfield Board of Education and Nutley Board of Commissioners were among government entities to add TAPinto sites this year.

The council approved Brindle's decision at Thursday’s reorganization meeting, but not before Councilman Mark LoGrippo asked why TAPinto Westfield’s official designation is being withdrawn.

“With 2.23 million page views in 2018, I really think that should be included in our official publications,” LoGrippo said.

Brindle told TAPinto Westfield that the lack of designation would not impact the publication’s being noticed of public meetings.

“One of my cornerstone priorities in office is to increase resident engagement through transparency and communication,” Brindle wrote. “My view is that the more people informed of the public meeting schedule the better for everyone, and we appreciate your ongoing efforts to keep our residents apprised of these meetings.”

Under state law, the public must be noticed with an annual list of regularly scheduled meetings to be published in two newspapers by Jan. 10, and with rare exception, any 48-hour written notice of regular, special or adjourned meetings that are not listed in that first meeting notice.

Brindle said in her email that if the state law changes to allow for digital publications to satisfy the law mandating public notices, the town would then consider designating TAPinto Westfield in that regard.

In a joint statement sent to Brindle prior to the meeting, TAPinto CEO Michael Shapiro, TAPinto Westfield Publisher Jackie Lieberman and TAPinto Westfield Managing Editor Matt Kadosh advised that TAPinto views the designation as a recognition by the local government that as a news source covering the municipality, its journalists have the right to receive the same notices as designated print publications receiving those notices by law.

“We view the news source designation as a matter of media access, one that increases public transparency and rightly recognizes that at the time the Open Public Meetings Act was enacted, electronic news sources were not the prime means of communication with the public they are today,” they wrote.

Email Managing Editor Matt Kadosh at mkadosh@tapinto.net and Publisher Jackie Lieberman at jlieberman@tapinto.net

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