NEW JERSEY — The student government at Montclair StateUniversity in Montclair, N.J., has agreed to amend its bylaws to better complywith the state’s open meetings laws, ending a lawsuit filed by the studentnewspaper over alleged violations.
Student Government Association officials agreed to adopt portions of thestate’s Open Public Meetings Act before the lawsuit reached thepreliminary hearing stage, according to attorney Daniel Crowe who representedthe SGA. Changes to the SGA’s statutes include ensuring minutes are keptduring closed meetings and providing 24-hour notice to the public of a closedmeeting.
The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey filed suit on behalf ofthe Montclarion after the student paper was denied access to and minutesfrom a closed session in February where the SGA discussed in private if anon-campus Latin-American group would be shut down for violating financepolicies. The suit was filed in Essex County Superior Court on March 20.
“We maintained from the beginning that they should be covered underthe Open Public Meetings Act and are covered because students have the right tohold their student government associations accountable,” said BobbyConnor, staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey whorepresented the Montclarion. “You can’t have democracywithout transparency.”
The Montclarion had originally asked the SGA to adopt the entireOpen Public Meetings Act. The student newspaper staff and its attorney agreed toa settlement, which only addressed minutes and notification of closedmeetings.
Montclarion Editor-in-Chief Kristie Cattafi said the amended bylawswould take effect in September. She added the staff is pleased to have settledout of court.
“I think it’s definitely a big improvement, especially for thestudent government who never took closed minutes,” Cattafi said.”It’s a step in the right direction. We won’t really know howit works until it’s actually put into practice. But for the time being,that’s exactly what we were asking for so we didn’t feel it wasnecessary to move forward with the lawsuit.”
Connor said the amended bylaws are a “positive move towards makingtheir government transparent.”
The March lawsuit is not the first bout the Montclarion has had withthe school’s student government. In January, the SGA froze thenewspaper’s funding because then-SGA President Ron Chicken said he feltthe paper misused its funds by hiring an attorney to advise the Montclarioneditors on their belief that the student government violated open meetinglaws. The dispute caused university President Susan A. Cole to declare theMonclarion independent from the SGA.
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