Law & Justice

Berkeley Heights Library Board Warned

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BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ -  The Berkeley Heights Library Board of Trustees violated the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) at its Jan. 16, 2017 meeting when it discussed contract negotiations with a party involved in the negotiations during an executive session.
 
A letter authored and signed by Acting Assistant Prosecutor Shawn P. Barnes to Eugene Huang on behalf of Acting Union County Prosecutor Grace Park, confirmed a March 1 conversation in which "We agreed that a violation of the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) N.J.S.A. 10:4-6, et. seq., occurred at the January 16, 2017 meeting of the Berkeley Heights Library Board of Trustees."
The letter went on to say that the exception for contract negotiations "is inapplicable in this particular case. The purpose of the exception is to allow members of the governing body to discuss a contract among themselves, not with members of the organization with whom they are negotiating." 
 
Park cited the reasoning of an unpublished opinion by the Appellate Division in Nevin vs. Asbury Park City Council, from 2005, as "applicable and controlling."
 

Because the executive session did not lead to actions about land acquisitions and that "no harm stemmed directly from the violation of the act, no further action will be taken by this Office," the letter stated.
 
The Library Board of Trustees is made up of five volunteers, as well as Mayor Robert Woodruff and Superintendent of Schools Judith Rattner, that meet the second Monday of each month at 7:30 p.m. in the Library meeting room.
 
Shelia Buthe, Library Board of Trustees President, said, "The Library Board had our regular meeting on January 16. At that meeting, an Executive Session was called for contract negotiations referencing the new municipal complex where the new library will be relocated to."
 
Councilman Marc Faecher and former Councilman Kevin Hall were present at that Library Board meeting and were invited to attend the Executive Session. Their attendance at that meeting violated the Open Public Meeting Act.  
 
After the prosecutor's office spoke to Eugene Huang,  Library Board Lawyer, the violation was brought to the Library Board's attention and it will not happen again, said Buthe.
 
"All the board members adore being on the board," she said. "We have a great respect and affinity for the library. It is our job to protect the interest of the library and its [almost 13,000] patrons."
 
"We just won't allow it to happen again," she said. -- "We want to make sure we are handling things properly and I think we are."
 
The letter should be used as a guide when moving into "executive session under the contract negotiation exception," the letter concluded.
 
The letter was copied to Berkeley Heights resident Dr. Thomas Foregger.

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