A verified complaint alleging violations of the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) and the New Jersey Constitution was filed against the Rutgers Board of Governors in Superior Court on Aug. 6 following an incident that occurred at the June 22 meeting.
Charlie Kratovil, editor of New Brunswick Today, and Troy Shinbrot, a professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering and former Senate Faculty Representative to the Board of Governors, were the two individuals involved in the incident and filed the complaint.
“The (Board) conducted a remote public meeting on June 22, 2021, wherein they violated the OPMA and the rights of Plaintiffs by silencing Mr. Kratovil without just cause during the time that he had been allotted to address the (Board), and by permanently removing Mr. Shinbrot (a non-voting board member) from the meeting after he questioned the (Board) President’s decision to rule Mr. Kratovil out of order,” the complaint states.
Following this incident, Shinbrot sent an email to the University in which he submitted his letter of resignation and called for increased transparency as well as improvements to be made to the Board’s operations going forward, The Daily Targum previously reported.
The two are now calling for several orders to be fulfilled in the complaint including declaring that the Board violated the OPMA at the June 22 meeting, voiding all resolutions approved at the meeting, ensuring the Board complies with all OPMA requirements going forward and ordering the Board to enact certain measures that make sure the public has the right to discuss general comments regarding University-related matters at meetings.
In addition, they are ordering the requirement for the Board to release the entire text of all resolutions no later than 48 hours before each meeting, as part of a publicly available agenda, so the public can make informed and appropriate comments during the meeting.
The complaint also includes background information on the Board of Governors and similar instances that have occurred at other meetings. The Targum previously reported one such instance in February where Kratovil and Shinbrot were similarly declared out of order after asking questions during a Board meeting.
University spokesperson Carissa Sestito said yesterday the University does not comment on pending legal matters, but added that the University has not been formally served any complaint.
After the June 22 meeting, Sestito said according to the Board's bylaws, speakers at meetings are deemed out of order when comments do not relate to agenda items or exceed reasonable time limits, the Targum reported.
Kratovil said the issue from the June 22 meeting is not an isolated incident, but rather part of a pattern.
“We see a disturbing and alarming trend in the behavior of the Board of Governors, particularly the president of the Board of Governors, who has overreached beyond his legal authority to remove a fellow board member from a public meeting, and that's just not acceptable,” Kratovil said. “We felt like it was in the best interests of (Rutgers), and American democracy, to push back on this abuse of power.”
Kratovil said there has been a growing disconnect between the Board and the community as he believes its meetings, even prior to the pandemic, have been difficult to access and participate in.
“It’s just childish to puff up their chests and proclaim outrage at being asked these things and then cut off both (Kratovil) — and then me for citing the rules and asking that they be obeyed,” Shinbrot said. “Legal action seemed the only avenue to provide some semblance of openness.”
He said their goal with this lawsuit is to increase transparency within the Board and its decisions as described in the OPMA, as well as prevent the Board from holding closed meetings in the future in which the public is unable to even find out what the meetings are about before commenting.
Shinbrot also said he believes it is important that the public knows what major decisions are being made behind closed doors and has the opportunity to comment on them, given that Rutgers is a public, state university.
“I want the public to know that I'm fighting for them and their right to address their leaders,” Kratovil said. “Rutgers … is a $4 billion institution and we deserve to have leaders of that institution be accountable to us.”