Date: Tue, 16 Mar 2010 14:07:28 -0400
Subject: Do meeting minutes need to contain a synopsis of public comments?
I sometimes receive questions that I think may be of general interest.
Usually several people address my Township Council during the portion
of its meetings set aside for public comment. Yet, nothing of what
these people say is captured in the minutes. While I don't expect a
verbatim report of the comments, I would expect something to the
effect of "Mrs. Jones commented on the proposed raise of ..." or
"Mrs. Jones inquired about ....". The minutes do not even capture
the fact that Mrs. Jones spoke at the public session. Is this lawful?
N.J.S.A. 10:4-14 require public bodies to keep "reasonably
comprehensible minutes" of its meetings. Unfortunately, there is no
published case law addressing the question of whether recording the
identities of public speakers and substance of what they said is
within the definition of "reasonably comprehensible."
The only New Jersey case that I know of where this question was
addressed is O'Shea v. West Milford Township Council, et al, (Passaic
County, Docket No. L-2229-04, Passero, A.J.S.C.). Copies of the
relevant case documents are available on-line at
The second page of Judge Passero's order requires the sued public
body to include within its meeting minutes "the person's name,
address and a summary of the comments made." On pages 15 and 16 of
the transcript (page 10 and 11 of the PDF file), Judge Passero
explains why this information is important. "A summarization [in the
minutes of what members of the public said is important] because it
alerts the public as to the issues framed, or, for example, a board
said, we had no notice of this. We had no knowledge of this. Here
are the minutes where somebody said, I want to point out this, this,
this. It also goes to notice. So make [the minutes] a little more
comprehensible and you say [sic] stay out of court."
So, according to Judge Passero's reasoning, including a summary of
what each member of the public said prevents the public body from
later claiming that it had no knowledge of the issue. For example,
if a member of the public, at the June 2, 2010 meeting, publicly
complains of stop sign obscured by vegetation, and on September 4,
2010, there is a fatal accident caused by a motorist not being able
see the obscured stop sign, it is important that the minutes of the
June 2, 2010 meeting reflect that the body was on notice of but
failed to correct the problem.
Judge Passero's ruling is an unpublished, trial court decision and is
not binding precedent. However, it might persuade other courts to
rule similarly. I suggest bringing the ruling to the attention of
your public body and ask them whether they will act in accordance
with Judge Passero's ruling even if they are not bound by it.
Somerset, New Jersey
------ End of Forwarded Message