Executive Orders From Newark Mayor May Soon Become More Difficult to Track

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka

NEWARK, NJ - Mayor Ras Baraka’s executive orders will not have to be published in newspapers should city council fully approve a new measure. 

City council on Tuesday supported and advanced the proposed ordinance, which would eliminate the public advertising requirement for executive orders. Although Councilman At-Large Carlos Gonzalez gave a yes vote to the proposal, he had some reservations. 

“Transparency calls for publication of everything that we do,” Gonzalez said. “I believe we are here going against the grain by allowing the executive orders not to be published before or after they're signed by the mayor. I believe we should err on the side of publishing everything and not withholding information from the public.”

The vast majority of executive orders are for title changes or labor agreement salary adjustments that aren’t required to be set by ordinance. But executive orders can also be used for personnel appointments or committee placements, according to a media law attorney. 

Executive orders can set administrative directives or policies. The mayor’s directive declaring Newark a sanctuary city was also made via executive order. 

The state's Open Public Meetings Act - also known as the Sunshine Law - does not require executive orders to be publicly advertised like public meetings, bids or foreclosures are. Newark required executive orders to be published in newspapers only because of a 1986 ordinance that was still on the books. 

“I do not believe that there is a law that requires them to publish Executive Orders,” explained CJ Griffin, a media law attorney. “I also don’t think that there would be a Sunshine Act violation unless the Mayor drafted the order as a result of discussion with a quorum of the governing body and that discussion took place outside a public meeting (or on a topic not permitted to be discussed in closed session of a public meeting.” 

City Clerk Kenneth Louis told TAPinto Newark that the price of publishing notices of executive orders in newspapers varies depending upon length. Rates range anywhere from 25 cents to $1 per line depending on the circulation of the newspaper, according to state statute. 

“They’re constantly coming through,” said Louis on the amount of executive orders that are published in newspapers. “(It’s) cost saving and time (saving) because it takes a great deal of staff time to prep. We have to put it in a specific format.” 

The new ordinance would require all executive orders to be filed with the city clerk within three business days after the mayor signs one. The public would be able to gain access to the orders if they file a records request. 

“The information is not being hidden,” said Business Administrator Eric Pennington. “There's still transparency involved. The information is available to be inspected.” 

Council President Mildred Crump said if people want to hear the truth, they could come to her or the mayor’s office. Instead, she's seen some people "redact and twist" executive orders that have been made public to sway opinions. 

“My yes vote, my support vote, is because I've seen too many redacted articles put out by those who have a different opinion. I can't speak for you, but I can certainly speak for myself,” she said in response to Gonzalez’s earlier comments. 

“I get misinformation where, in the beginning, it was for the purpose of informing the public,” she continued. “But unfortunately there are those who are opposed to the administration and will do anything in their power to sway the public opinion.” 

Councilmen Anibal Ramos, Augusto Amador and Luis Quintana were absent from today's meeting and did not vote on the measure. A public hearing will be held on the ordinance on Aug. 7 at 12:30 p.m. in the council chambers. 

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