Written on: June 20th, 1996 in 10001 Declaration of Policy
The Complainant alleged that the Sussex County Planning & Zoning Board violated the Freedom of Information Act by holding meetings in rooms that were too small and by noting that it would “take matters under advisement.” Held: the public bodies did not violate the Act by “taking matters under advisement” and holding meetings in places allegedly too small to allow for participation and observation by the public. The public body should clearly announce the time and place of the deliberation and vote, should advise the public that the session is open, and should announce that if the public elects not to attend the vote, that they can call the office in the morning during business hours for the decision. The procedure, although not specifically mandated by the Act, certainly complies with the spirit of §10001. When the meeting place may not be large enough to accommodate all the people who may wish to attend, the governmental unit must balance the public right of access against the burdens that providing additional public access would impose on the governmental unit.
Written on: May 29th, 1996 in 10001 Declaration of Policy
The Complainant alleged that the Sussex County Planning & Zoning Board misled the public by indicating that a decision on a matter could take weeks and would be decided at another meeting, and then voting on that matter later in the evening after the majority of the audience had left. The question is whether the audience at the public hearing of the Board had reasonable cause to believe that this Board would hold another public hearing at some later time before deciding the application for the Project. Held: the audience did have reasonable cause to believe the record would be open for further proceedings other than a vote. Even though the audience members were advised that they were welcome to remain based upon the Chairman’s comment and ambiguity in the conflicting statements, they could reasonably have believed that the application on the Project would not be decided that night. The failure to advise the public when a matter is to be discussed and decided is a violation of the Act. However, this is a violation of the spirit of the Act, not a specific component of the act, and no remedy is warranted.