Tapes of closed meetings are public records
NEW JERSEY — Tapes made during closed government meetings are common law public records, subject to the removal of any confidential or privileged information before disclosure, the Supreme Court ruled in late March.
“Blanket access to the tapes would not be required;” the court said, “rather, access could be limited to those portions of the tapes necessary to vindicate the public interest.”
The high court ordered the trial court to consider whether to partially disclose the tapes, redacting any portions exempt as intrusions on personal privacy or part of the agency’s deliberative process. Or, the trial court could decide that because the minutes accurately reflect the meeting, there is no need to disclose the otherwise confidential taped discussions.
The tapes in question were used to prepare the official minutes of meetings of the Atlantic City Convention Center Authority. They give a verbatim account of executive session discussions concerning the forced resignation in 1988 and the 1991 rehiring of executive Theodore Bergman.
When The Press of Atlantic City asked the authority for the minutes, and later the tapes, of the executive sessions, and Bergman refused consent, the authority asked the superior court in Atlantic City what to do. The trial court ruled in October 1991 that the minutes should be released but the tapes withheld.
The high court agreed that the tapes are not public records under the Right to Know Law because it only covers records required to be made, maintained or kept on file by law. However, the common law definition of public record, which adapts to changing circumstance, is applicable to audio tapes, the court said.
(Atlantic City Convention Center Authority v. South Jersey Publishing Co.; Media Counsel: Nelson Johnson, Atlantic City)