The CMLP recently received the following question from a reader of our Legal Guide, and we thought it would be useful to post the question and our response in the Forums:
In New Jersey, how can I find out if a particular entity is required to have open public meetings? How can I research that?
The first step is to review the criteria for government bodies covered by the New Jersey Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA), which are discussed in our Legal Guide.
The OPMA applies to public bodies. The law defines a "public body" as "a commission, authority, board, council, committee or any group of two or more persons organized under the laws of this State and collectively empowered as a voting body to perform a public governmental function . . . or collectively authorized to spend public funds." N.J. Stat. § 10:4-8(a).
Public bodies can be part of state, county, or municipal government, and they share two salient features. First, they involve two or more persons acting jointly. The OPMA therefore does not apply to government officials who act in an individual capacity, like the governor or a mayor, when they meet with their subordinates. But the law might apply to these officials if they sit on a board, commission, or other multi-member body that makes decisions on public business. Second, to be covered by the OPMA, a body must vote on public matters or spend public funds. The law thus does not cover purely advisory boards or committees. It also does not cover any private group or body not created by a New Jersey statute, ordinance, or regulation, or federal government bodies.
The New Jersey Supreme Court recognized a limited additional category of entity subject to the OPMA in The Times of Trenton Publishing Company v. Lafayette Yard Community Development Corporation, 183 N.J. 519 (2005). In that case, a private, non-profit corporation was held to be subject to the OPMA because it: (1) was established solely to assist the City of Trenton, the Trenton Parking Authority and the State of New Jersey to provide for the redevelopment of a specific parcel of land in Trenton; (2) it operated under restrictions allowing it to issue tax exempt bonds that would be deemed by the IRS to have been issued on behalf of the State; and (3) the City of Trenton appointed or approved of the appointment of at least 80 percent of the corporation's governing board.
In order to determine whether a given entity (1) was created by a New Jersey statute, ordinance, or regulation, or federal government body or (2) might fall under the decision in the Times of Trenton case, the best place to start is the "About" page of the entity's website (if one exists). This might answer your question immediately, or at least allow you to identify individuals associated with the entity to determine whether government officials were involved in the entity's operation or creation. You may also be able to find out more information about the circumstances of an entity's creation by requesting public record information through the New Jersey Department of the Treasury, Division of Revenue.
Keep in mind that the vast majority of private corporations will not be subject to the OPMA. The mere fact that a private entity operates as a non-profit organization or purports to serve the public interest will not be enough to bring the entity within the OPMA, nor will the fact that it receives public funding. The Times of Trenton decision addresses a narrow situation where a private entity was created solely as a tool of the government, with no other purpose.