Sparta BOE backs off plan to ID citizens seeking records

New Jersey Herald
Dec. 17, 2014
by Eric Obernauer

The full article can be found here:  Below is an excerpt that includes a quote by NJFOG trustee John Paff.
SPARTA — The Board of Education, facing a lawsuit over open public records, has once again backed off a proposal that, if enacted, would have publicly identified anyone submitting a request for documents under the Open Public Records Act.

The proposal … would have subjected anyone filing such a request to having their name and the nature of their request — but not the documents provided in response to the request — posted on the district website.

Reeking of intimidation

John Paff, a board member of the New Jersey Foundation for Open Government and one of the state’s foremost open-government advocates, agreed Wednesday that the proposal reeked of intimidation though he acknowledged that public record requests — including the names of those submitting such requests — are, in themselves, public records.

“Anyone, on their own dime, could decide to set up a website saying I want to see all the OPRA requests from everybody who filed and post them online, but for elected officials to be doing this as a Board of Education and saying as a matter of board policy that we’re going to specifically call attention to these people sounds like intimidation to me,” Paff said.

Paff noted that even if the board had gone ahead with the proposal, anyone submitting a request could have gotten around the policy simply by submitting their requests anonymously by email or other means. Under the law, anonymous requests for records must be fulfilled in the same manner as all other requests.

“If what they want to do is drive people underground, I guess you could do that,” Paff said.

But he suggested those decrying the time and cost of complying with the Open Public Records Act failed to appreciate that furnishing citizens with records was not an “extra” responsibility but an integral role of any public entity funded by taxpayers.