Bellmawr Borough Council has agreed to settle the lawsuit that was filed against them in February, 2016 for alleged violations of the Open Public Meetings Act.
John Paff, a well-known open government advocate, filed the pro se lawsuit. The basis of Paff’s lawsuit was that Bellmawr Borough Council has failed or refused to record minutes of its caucus meetings and that the minutes have failed to specify the manner in which notice was given.
When reached by phone about the settlement, Paff said:
What happened was the Council agreed to settle the lawsuit. I received a signed settlement agreement from the attorney, Robert Messick. I have taken that agreement and I am sending it today to Judge Anthony M. Pugliese. He is the judge who has been assigned to our case. The judge will review the agreement, but there is nothing in here that will prevent him from signing it. I expect he will sign it and it will become an enforceable judgment. What it will do exactly, is it will require the Borough to do two things that it hasn’t been doing.
The first thing is they have to keep “reasonably comprehensive” minutes of all of its meetings, including its caucus meetings. That was the real motivation for the suit because the council wasn’t keeping minutes at all of its caucus meetings. I don’t know if they’ve been doing this forever, but I know that they have been doing it for a while, not keeping minutes.
The second thing is they have to inform people, as they are required by law to do. The Mayor, or the Council President, or somebody, has to inform people at the beginning of each public meeting about the manner in which the “adequate notice” has been provided and they have to specify exactly how they did it. They also have to record a statement to that effect in the meeting minutes. That is also required by law.
The last thing is they had to pay me and they did pay me. I got Messick’s check for $250 to reimburse me for my filing fee. I think it is a good thing. They settled because I think they consulted with their attorney and found out they weren’t going to win this case. Clearly, the law required them to do these things.
I am glad that they settled as opposed to requiring me to file additional papers and go through summary judgment proceedings. It made it a lot easier. So that case is over.
An email was sent to Borough Administrator, Josh Tregear, and to Borough Clerk Chuck Sauter, on April 1 asking for a comment about the settled lawsuit. The email also asked when the matter was discussed and approved by Council since the settlement did not appear on either the March 17 Caucus or March 30 Council meeting agendas.
Neither Tregear nor Sauter responded.
To view the Consent Judgment that settles the case, click below: