On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Bergen County.
Approved for Publication June 30, 1997.
Before Judges Baime, P.g. Levy and Braithwaite. The opinion of the court was delivered by Braithwaite, J.A.D.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Braithwaite
The opinion of the court was delivered by
Plaintiffs appeal from a judgment declaring that defendants Township of South Hackensack (South Hackensack) and the mayor and members of the South Hackensack Township Committee acted in accordance with the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA), N.J.S.A. 10:4-6 to -21, when certain promotions in the South Hackensack Police Department (Department) were made. Defendants Joseph E. Brown, Jr. and Michael Montenegro cross-appeal from that portion of the judgment denying their claims for counsel fees and costs. We conclude that South Hackensack violated the OPMA and therefore reverse on the appeal. We affirm on the cross-appeal.
Plaintiff Eugene Roman was deputy chief of the Department between 1992 and 1994 and served as acting chief for a significant portion of 1994. The former chief of police and several police officers were indicted in 1994, and therefore, South Hackensack had to appoint a new chief of police. The other plaintiffs are all members of the department, except for Brian Veprek, Sr., who was a citizen and taxpayer of South Hackensack.
The members of the Township Committee at all relevant times were Angelo Cerbo, mayor; Nicholas Brando, deputy mayor; James Anzevino; Walter Eckel; and Lucien Zeppone. Eckel and Anzevino, the two Democrats on the Township Committee, stated in certifications that in July or August 1994, Cerbo announced that the following people would be considered for the chief of police position: Joseph E. Brown, Michael Zito, and Eugene Roman. The Township Committee then interviewed each candidate, and after the interviews, Cerbo notified the Committee that they would discuss the candidates at the Committee's next meeting.
Marie Nasta, the Township clerk at the time, stated in her certification that it was her responsibility to notify the press and public of South Hackensack's public meetings. In January 1994, the Township Committee passed Resolution 69, which listed the dates, times, and locations of its meetings in 1994. The Township Committee held two types of meetings, denominated as "caucus" and "public" meetings. The caucus meetings were held to discuss the business that would then be considered at the regular meeting. No agendas for these meetings were ever posted or published. In her certification, Nasta stated that November 29, 1994, was not one of the dates listed on Resolution 69 for either a public meeting or a caucus meeting. In November, she posted a notice rescheduling a caucus meeting from November 29, 1994, to December 6, 1994, and notified one newspaper, the Bergen Record. The notice also rescheduled a public meeting from December 1, 1994, to December 7, 1994. The notice read as follows:
PLEASE TAKE NOTICE that the Township Committee has rescheduled the December caucus and bi-monthly meetings as follows:
1. Caucus meeting originally scheduled for Tuesday, November 29, 1994 at 7:30 p.m. has been rescheduled to Tuesday, December 6, 1994 at the Municipal Complex, 227 Phillips Ave., So. Hackensack, N.J. at 7:30 p.m.
2. Bi-monthly meeting originally scheduled for Thursday, December 1, 1994, at 8:00 o'clock p.m. has been rescheduled to Wednesday, December 7, 1994, at the Municipal Complex, 227 Phillips Avenue, South Hackensack, at 8:00 o'clock p.m.
On December 6, 1994, at the caucus meeting, the three Republican members of the Township Committee, Cerbo, Brando, and Zeppone, recommended and voted in favor of the following promotions:
Name New position Former position
Joseph E. Brown Chief of police ...