Accomplishments and Activities

NJFOG has been very busy!  Here are some of the things we’ve been doing:

 

  • Working with Jersey City-based tech group Code for JC, a chapter of Code for America Brigade, on a project aimed at increasing access to civil court records.  This project is in progress.
  • Released in March 2016 a study of compliance with the 2013 Online Transparency Law applicable to the state’s local authorities. The study, a follow-up to the NJ Comptroller’s 2011 report that spurred the legislation, showed that there is widespread non-compliance and emphasized the need for statutory reform and stronger enforcement.
  • Joined forces with partner organizations — NJPA, SPJ-NJ, ACLU-NJ, and others — to ensure that strong enforcement and access provisions are included in pending OPRA and OPMA reform legislation, and we’re working collectively with the bill sponsors to gain passage of these bills.
  • Hosted OPRA/OPMA forums for Sunshine Week in March 2016 (Belleville, NJ), March 2014 (Clementon, NJ), and April 2016 (Cranford, NJ), with our most recent forum scheduled for September 20, 2016 in Perth Amboy, NJ. NJFOG has also spoken before numerous groups, including NJ NAHRO (National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials) in November 2015, the Ridgewood chapter of the League of Women Voters in February 2015, and community group Education Focused (Chatham, NJ) in May 2015.
  • Filed an amicus brief in Feb. 2016 with the New Jersey Supreme Court in the case of “North Jersey Media v. Lyndhurst” in support of public access to law enforcement records, a matter of significant public interest.
  • Requested in Dec. 2015 that the Government Records Council (GRC) take a more active role in how OPRA requests are handled and better serve the public by providing advice to records custodians. Though some feel the legislature intended the GRC to have this function, the GRC opined it is not authorized to intervene pre-complaint.
  • Issued “Report 15-01: Does An OPRA Request Constitute Harassment?” in November 2015 addressing the concerns inherent in allowing a harassment claim as acceptable basis for non-response to an OPRA request.
  • Petitioned the State Local Finance Board in Oct. 2015 for rule changes to improve the handling of ethics complaints filed against local government officials. NJFOG sought time limits on investigations and public disclosure sooner in the process, among its requests. While the Board declined to make changes, our petition increased awareness of the shortcomings in the current system.
  • Assisted non-profit organization Unchained at Last to draft and gain passage of legislation that provided crime victims cost-free access to their own records and established that a victim’s request for those records is not public information. The new law took effect Nov. 1, 2014.
  • Filed multiple successful “affirmative litigation” lawsuits beginning in 2014 with a goal of increasing compliance with OPMA and OPRA by public agencies and strengthening these laws statewide. Public agencies sued for their non-compliance include the Island Heights Board of Education (Ocean County), Trenton Board of Education (Mercer County), Summit Housing Authority (Union County), Long Beach Island Board of Education (Ocean County), Little Egg Harbor Fire District #3 (Ocean County), and Spotswood Board of Education (Middlesex County).
  • Collaborated with partner organizations — including Tri-State Transportation Campaign, Reinvent Albany, and others — to promote passage of legislation in the 2014-2015 NJ session that would have established broad reforms, including public meeting provisions, for the Port Authority of NY and NJ. While that legislation was not adopted , a separate bill was signed into law that brought the PANYNJ under the Open Public Records laws of both New York and New Jersey.
  • Testified numerous times before NJ Senate and Assembly Committees on bills that concern public records and meetings access. NJFOG commentary has resulted in improved legislation in many cases.
  • Helped lead a diverse coalition of civic, environmental and journalism groups that successfully lobbied for passage of the Open Public Records Act (OPRA). The act, signed into law in January 2002, significantly broadened public access to government records in New Jersey.
  • Testified before the NJ Privacy Study Commission on privacy proposals that could have undermined the effectiveness of OPRA without providing significant benefits to the public.
  • Argued successfully against excessively broad homeland security regulations proposed by the State Attorney General’s Office that would have prevented the public from learning about workplace and neighborhood chemical hazards and other matters of significant public impact – while not providing genuine security from terrorism.
  • Hosted the annual conference of the National Freedom of Information Coalition in 2004.
  • Organized a statewide conference on the needs to upgrade NJ’s outmoded 30-year-old Open Public Meetings Law (Sunshine Act). Participate each year in national Sunshine Week by hosting NJ events that focus on open government issues.
  • Present training programs on the OPRA and OPMA for both the public and government officials.
  • Sponsored and released in 2007 a detailed independent report by international open government expert Mitchell Pearlman on how to improve inadequate enforcement of OPRA by the GRC.
  • Sponsored and released in 2007 a comprehensive independent report by Rutgers researchers on the effectiveness of NJ’s OPMA law compared to other states.
  • Established this website, which is designed to serve as a statewide resource for those interested in using and expanding their rights to access government records and meetings in NJ and beyond.