More on Open Public Records…

3/17/2008:

Didn’t catch this one three weeks ago, but The Star Ledger published an opinion article about how ridiculous it is to have to go to such lengths to get public documents we’re entitled to see:

Put teeth in open records law

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February 25, 2008 22:30PM

State lawmakers recognize that if the civil law is going to have teeth, those who violate it must face financial consequences. That’s why consumer fraud, sexual harassment, age, race, religious and gender discrimination laws allow those who bring successful lawsuits to seek legal fees.

Hoboken Councilwoman Elizabeth Mason is asking the New Jersey Supreme Court to award counsel fees in cases involving violations of the Open Public Records Act and to extend the deadline to sue for failing to turn over documents from 45 days to two years. It’s a fine idea.

Mason, an independent, is a founder of the New Jersey Foundation for Open Government. She has requested a copy of every city financial transaction for 2003 and 2004 as well as other documents. She is still waiting for some of the records, which is why she brought her case to the Supreme Court.

The court should accept Mason’s argument that government entities that fail to comply with OPRA should pay the legal fees of people who must hire lawyers to force compliance.

While certain sensitive documents are excluded, OPRA requires public agencies to turn over documents within seven days following a request. Often government agencies do not live up to the letter or the spirit of the law, dragging their feet, hoping the person making the request will simply disappear.

If records are important enough, newspapers like this one may hire lawyers to go to court to get the documents. But for most people, hiring a lawyer to dislodge public documents is simply too costly. Knowing that, many government agencies do not comply with OPRA. Awarding legal fees would provide an economic incentive for greater compliance.

That Mason, a councilwoman, had to go to court to get public records illustrates just how unresponsive public officials can be. The threat of having to pay a financial penalty might help convince Hoboken and other communities to be more cooperative.

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3 Comments on "More on Open Public Records…"

The Bard of Agon
Member
The Bard of Agon

You’re right, Matt: our city fathers are all scofflaws in their own right where they refuse to be open about how they govern.

But they do understand money, and they will get the point if the fines are likely enough and stiff enough.

Farina’s and Cammarano’s current ELEC violations are crystalline epitomes of scofflaw contempt for democracy and the Hoboken citizenry. Scofflawyer Cammarano in particular ought be fined ’til his colon bleeds. Farina should just be caged.

matt_72
Member

[quote comment=”73814″]Agreed. Fine the suckers. It’s the law. It’s called the Open Public Records Act. Open. Public. What don’t they understand?[/quote]

You are talking about people that don’t understand the concept of parking in a legal spot. Do you think they actually care what the law says?

Friedupright
Member
Friedupright

Agreed. Fine the suckers. It’s the law. It’s called the Open Public Records Act. Open. Public. What don’t they understand?

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