On Sunlight and Disinfectant: How a recent decision on the Sunshine Law will affect school boards

Before he was a United States Supreme Court Associate Justice, Louis Brandeis wrote: “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.” According to the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court, New Jersey public bodies such as boards of education must tell the public when the lights are on and when the disinfectant will be applied.

New Jersey’s Sunshine Law, also known as the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA), was adopted as a post-Watergate reform to increase public access and participation in government by giving New Jersey citizens the right to attend all meetings of public bodies except in limited circumstances. To ensure the public’s opportunity to attend public meetings, the OPMA requires written advance notice of public meetings, which must give the time, date, location and the agenda, to the extent known. Notices must also disclose whether formal action will be taken, such as a vote. If a public body wants to exclude the public from its discussions in closed or executive session, it must first publicly adopt a resolution that states the general nature of the subject that will be discussed, and the time when and the circumstances under which the discussion can be publicly disclosed. Additionally, a portion of every meeting for municipal governing bodies and boards of education must set aside a period for public comment.

In McGovern v. Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, the Appellate Division discussed the OPMA’s provisions that address notice, closed session topics, the public comment period, and the sequence and conduct of public meetings. Though McGovern is currently pending before the New Jersey
Supreme Court, it remains good law until overruled and is nevertheless very instructive.

Sunshine and Disinfectant (CL Alert).pdf