Last week, the New Jersey Supreme Court declined to hear a case challenging whether a board complied with the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) when its members voted via an electronic voting system to approve a send-receive agreement. NJSBA appeared as amicus curiae in the case, supporting the Princeton Board of Education.
Before the court was an appeal of the Appellate Division’s October, 30, 2020 decision which was reported in a November 2020 edition of School Board Notes. In the matter, during a properly advertised public meeting in June 2018, the board deliberated in open session on the send-receive agreement for over 40 minutes. When voting on whether to approve the agreement, board members cast their votes on laptop computers using an electronic voting system. Once votes were cast, the vote of each board member and the final result were displayed on a screen in the boardroom. Additionally, it was announced at the meeting that the agreement was approved, and the meeting was also livestreamed to allow members of the public not physically present to follow what was occurring. Litigation subsequently ensued about the validity of the board’s vote to approve the agreement.
In their challenge to the board’s vote, the plaintiffs alleged that the screen was dim such that they could not see how each board member voted. Because a member of the public would not have known how each board member voted at the meeting, the plaintiffs argued, the board was using a secret process and acted in violation of the OPMA, and demanded that the vote be overturned. Throughout the case, the board maintained that it had complied with the requirements of the OPMA.
The trial court sided with the board, finding, among other things, that the board “had gone the extra mile” in livestreaming the meeting. Additionally, the trial court found no objections were raised at the meeting, and it was the board’s intention that the public be able to see on the screen how each board member voted.
The Appellate Division affirmed the trial court, further finding that the board complied with the OPMA’s requirements, including noting board members’ individual votes in the meeting minutes. In its amicus brief, the NJSBA noted that there is no requirement under the OPMA or New Jersey school law for a roll call vote on a send-receive agreement, and the Appellate Division agreed, finding that the decision of whether to impose such a requirement should be left to the legislature or governor.
The plaintiffs appealed the decision to the New Jersey Supreme Court, and the NJSBA supported the board in successfully arguing that this case did not merit the Supreme Court hearing the case. The New Jersey League of Municipalities joined the NJSBA’s brief. By declining to hear plaintiffs’ appeal, the New Jersey Supreme Court did not disturb the plain-language requirements of the OPMA, or roll-call voting requirements under New Jersey school law, where the board used an electronic voting platform as in the facts here. This finding is important for boards in understanding OPMA compliance when implementing new voting system technology.
NJSBA as Amicus NJSBA participates as amicus curiae, or “friend of the court,” in cases that have an impact on school districts statewide. This NJSBA advocacy service helps shape legal decisions affecting public education in New Jersey. In the past several years, the Association has been involved as amicus curiae in more than two dozen cases before state and federal courts and administrative agencies. The NJSBA has collaborated with other agencies, supporting New Jersey public entities in these amicus curiae matters.
For more information about the OPMA, board members should consult with their board attorney or call the New Jersey School Boards Association Legal, Labor, and Policy Department at (609) 278-5254.