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Development corporation must release records

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NEWS MEDIA UPDATE   ·   NEW JERSEY   ·   Freedom of Information   ·   June 20, 2005

Development corporation must release records

  • The state Supreme Court ruled last week that a development corporation created to oversee construction of a hotel and convention center on government land is a public entity that must comply with open government laws.

June 20, 2005  ·   A private nonprofit development corporation organized in 1998 to help New Jersey and the city of Trenton develop a hotel and conference center on government land must meet openly and release its minutes to the public, the state Supreme Court ruled unanimously Wednesday.

The court ruled that because the Lafayette Yard Community Development Corporation issued tax-exempt bonds to pay for the development and because the government nominated at least 80 percent of the corporation’s board, it is a public entity subject to New Jersey open government laws. The corporation issued $33 million in tax-exempt bonds to pay for the project.

Reporter Albert Raboteau from The (Trenton) Times was initially permitted to sit in on some of the corporation’s board meetings, but when the board began to ask him to leave for various reasons, The Times sued in October 2002. The newspaper argued that the corporation’s meetings and minutes are public under the state open meetings and records law. The newspaper initially lost in February 2003, but an appellate court reversed last year and the corporation appealed to the high court.

New Jersey Supreme Court Chief Justice Deborah Poritz wrote for the court that the meetings and minutes must be opened not only because the government exercises substantial control over the corporation, but also because it wielded power to spend public funds when the city unconditionally guaranteed the debt obligations the corporation assumed through its issuance of tax-exempt bonds.

Poritz said she refused to believe that the government’s guarantee of the corporation’s $33 million in bond debt obligations was not the same as the corporation spending public money to qualify it for openness obligations. “To the extent that public funds . . . have been put at risk” by the corporation’s operations, the corporation is considered public, she wrote.

(The Times of Trenton v. Lafayette Yard Community Development Corporation; Media Counsel: Keith J. Miller; Trenton, N.J.)RL

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