Five members of the City Council were part of a meeting at a church in downtown Paterson on Wednesday morning, where they discussed a controversial noise ordinance that allows mosques to broadcast the Islamic call to prayer, potentially violating Open Public Meetings Act.
Council members Michael Jackson, William McKoy, Luis Velez, Ruby Cotton, and Lilisa Mimms were part of the meeting at the Agape church on Ward Street.
“I had no idea what this gathering was about. I got a phone call from one of the members of my constituency in the 1st Ward. Once I saw that there was too many council people there, I got up and left,” said Jackson, vice president of the City Council.
Council members said prominent religious leaders, including pastors and two imams, hosted the meeting to discuss the ordinance. Pastors John Algera and James Kuykendall were key organizers. The meeting was hosted at Kuykendall’s church.
Kuykendall did not respond to a call for comment. Algera declined to discuss what transpired at the meeting.
Some of Jackson’s colleagues disputed his assertion that he left early. When asked how many minutes into the meeting did he leave, Jackson said, “I don’t know. I wasn’t keeping track of time.”
“Who told you that?” asked Mimms when questioned about the meeting.
Mimms was mentioned as a coordinator at the meeting. She said she was not one of the organizers.
“There was no secret meeting,” said Mimms. When asked where did the meeting take place and who called for it, she said, “I’m not going to comment on that.”
Mimms repeatedly said she had no comments.
Cotton did not respond to a call for comment.
“I don’t have a comment on this,” said McKoy. When pushed for answers he repeatedly said he did not have a comment. McKoy is the longest serving member of the City Council. He has been in office for 20 years.
Velez said he received a call from Kuykendall to attend the meeting. He was the first council member to show up for the meeting, he said. He said the last council member to attend should have left the meeting to avoid having quorum.
Five council members in attendance constitutes quorum.
“If that was a quorum, they violated the OPMA. There is no Paterson/pastor exception to the OPMA,” said Walter M. Luers, attorney for the New Jersey Foundation for Open Government.
Under the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) five council members cannot get together, without notifying the public, in a closed meeting to discuss city business.
Aggrieved members of the public have several options to take action against the council members. They can file a lawsuit to seek a declaration council members violated the sunshine law, seek injunctive relief, or an order that tells them not to violate the law in the future.
The public can also complain to the Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office or the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office to enforce the open meetings law and seek civil penalties and other relief.
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