JACKSON – Sometimes when a mistake happens, you get a redo to make a necessary correction and that is what happened recently when members of the Township Planning Board sat down to reset an unfortunate oversight.
While the Board had their reorganization meeting early last month, they had to reappoint their professional staff and reaffirm several items to correct what their attorney, Robert Shea, described as something that hasn’t been compliant since 2021.
Among those present at the session were Board Chairman Tzvi Herman, Vice Chair Michele Campbell, Council liaison Council President Martin Flemming, Mayoral Designee Ken Bressi, Business Administrator Terence Wall and members Shimshi Heller, alternate II, Joseph Sullivan and Jeff Riker.
“This is a jurisdictional issue. We found defects in the OPMA (Open Public Meetings Act) reorganization procedures and policies that we have to comply with to adopt a quasi-judicial authority from the state. What that means is that, if we move forward, without being OPMA compliant, we would lack any jurisdiction to hear any matters moving forward,” Shea said.
He further explained how the situation came about. “This was not the Board’s fault. This was a legal concern of an issue that was fully within the purview of the Board attorney and unfortunately, we are not complaint since 2021.”
Shea said the purpose of the meeting was to retroactively go back to the 2022 minutes to make “us compliant going forward. We are holding this reorg meeting as a special meeting. The only way to comply with this is to have this special meeting. The regular meetings of 2023 were void because technically, the reorganization meeting never really happened due to the OPMA violation.”
Shea said this wasn’t just a discretionary act by the Board. “We are simply adopting the minutes as a Board and adopting the decisions and testimony that took place.”
The Board’s former attorney, Sean Gertner, was said to have missed a step in the required procedures. It was noted by members of the Board that Gertner is now a judge.
Shea responded to Board questions saying, “putting it gently, he overlooked this as a legal issue and unfortunately, all the meetings that took place prior to 2023 technically were not compliant with the OPMA. As to the resolutions that were passed, there is a 45-day period in which the general public and any objectors have a right to file a prerogative writ.”
“All the meetings that took place prior are technically protected under the 45-day rule,” Shea added. “We are going to readopt the minutes as the first method of protection against any prior violations.”
The Board moved to unanimously approve the minutes. Herman also proposed the adoption of minutes of the December 12, 2022 executive meeting and approval of minutes from the January 23, 2023 regular meeting which was also passed.
The Board added some additional meetings to their calendar to do some catch up work and also moved to reconfirm the reorganization and appointment of professionals.
Shea told The Jackson Times after the meeting, “we have to publish the calendar of the dates of meetings and the public is put on notice to come. That was never done and that invalidates the meeting itself. That is what never happened going back three years.”
That however wasn’t the only error made. “The annual calendar has to be published and if it is not on the calendar it has to be a special meeting. For a special meeting to occur it has to be published in the newspapers 48 hours in advance,” he stated.
When asked if the abrupt cease of publication of the Tri-Town News which rebranded itself as The Jackson Sun weeks prior and was running legals in the publication had anything to do with the issue, Shea replied, “that is one of the reasons. That is one element of it and that element goes back to the prior year.”
“Everything is connected and when one thing goes wrong the dominos fall. The reorganization meeting whether it is regular or special, you have to vote on the calendar at the meeting. You can’t do it prior because of public policy behind it. You might have new members so they have to vote on it there,” Shea said.
“You have to put notice of that calendar within seven days of the reorganization meeting itself. If you go back all the way to 2021, most of those (required) elements, weren’t hit. I forget if they did one thing right in 2022 but what happens is that even if you do one of those things wrong it invalidates the whole meeting,” the attorney added.
“If a public body doesn’t adopt the authority of quasi jurisdiction, because they are basically judges, if they don’t do that, they are basically an Elks Club and they hang out and hear stuff. If they don’t adopt the authority that the state is willing to give them any applications that are heard after that are voidable,” Shea said.
With the Board now adopting the authority to hear the applications, the situation is now “retroactive. I went as far back as 2021 when I believe Sean (Gertner) came on. After a year or so it doesn’t really matter because you are now only dealing with the prior year,” Shea said.
The attorney explained, “once the resolution is published and adopted, you have 45 days to challenge and the public is on notice as part of the 45-day rule which protects the applicants and the decisions.”
Shea said he has not spoken to Gertner about this matter. “He is a judge now so technically he can’t have anything to do with his prior legal matters. He has to be neutral at this point but it happened under his watch and no one is infallible.”