Princeton Fact Check: Earned Sick Leave Meetings and the Sunshine Law

falseA letter signed by more than 80 residents and Craig Garcia, a Princeton resident who is the political coordinator at the NJ Working Families Alliance, claims it could be a violation of the state’s Open Public Meetings Act, commonly known as the Sunshine Law, for a Princeton Council subcommittee to meet with local business owners about a proposed earned sick leave ordinance.

“The undersigned members of the Princeton community would like to express our deep concern over the news that the council is considering moving discussion over the proposed earned sick days ordinance out of the public eye,” reads the letter. “Establishing a closed council working group to meet with business owners in private and negotiate changes to the ordinance’s language would cut Princetonians out of the democratic process, and may violate New Jersey’s sunshine law.”

Claims that such subcommittee meetings would violate the Sunshine Law are false. The Open Public Meetings Act applies whenever an “effective majority” of council members attend a meeting. If less than a majority of the public body meets with the community, that’s not a public meeting.

Walter Luers, head of the New Jersey Foundation for Open Government, said an exception would be if the members used tricks or an artifice to evade the requirements of the Sunshine Law, for example, if they shuttled members in and out of the meeting to stay just below the quorum.

The Princeton Council has formed many subcommittees in the past to work on affordable housing, the Princeton First Aid and Rescue Squad move,  and many other issues in town. Such subcommittees  often meet privately with constituents and representatives from organizations.  This is legitimate when there is no conflict of interest.

Supporters of the earned sick leave ordinance, including Garcia, have met privately with individual elected officials to push for the earned sick leave ordinance to be passed. The ordinance has also been discussed at Princeton Community Democratic Organization executive committee meetings.

Some business owners would like to meet with the subcommittee to review financials related to staffing. Other business owners want to discuss an alternative ordinance to the one that has been proposed.

Earned sick leave ordinances require businesses within a municipality to require employers to provide workers with paid earned sick time. Jersey City was the first municipality in the state to pass an earned sick leave ordinance.

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