In September of last year, the Pennsylvania Senate unanimously passed reform legislation that, among other things, would bring the Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA) under the open public records laws of both Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The bill was not taken up by the House, however, and died at the end of Pennsylvania’s 2013-2014 legislative session. Fortunately, the bill (SB286) has been re-introduced in the 2015-2016 session.
New Jersey’s version of that legislation, S2013, has seen little momentum, though. The bill is still sitting in Senate Committee and there is no Assembly counterpart. New Jersey’s legislative session runs 2014-2015, so the New Jersey Legislature has only until the end of this year to pass the bill or else go through the rigmarole of re-introduction, prolonging the dance with Pennsylvania as to who’ll reach the finish line first.
The foot-dragging is irresponsible considering that the turmoil at DRPA has been well publicized, including the departure of its first inspector general and an ongoing investigation into the agency’s spending. In 2012, then State Comptroller Matthew Boxer issued a blistering 77-page audit of the agency. “In nearly every area we looked at, we found people who treated the DRPA like a personal ATM…,” said Boxer.
Effective oversight is sorely needed. But if you need another reason to take up that cause, NJFOG Treasurer John Paff has provided one. Paff, who is well known for his open government advocacy, recently took a look at DRPA’s policy and instructions for requesting public records and, not surprisingly, found them lacking. His below letter to DRPA describes the agency’s laughable tactics. “It’s ridiculous for them to require requestors to fill out their agency-specific form but to not make the form, or information on how to submit it, available to the public,” said Paff.
March 24, 2015
Toni Brown, Chief Administrative Officer
Delaware River Port Authority
PO Box 1949
Camden, NJ 08101
via e-mail only to email@example.com
Dear Ms. Brown:
I serve as Treasurer of the New Jersey Foundation for Open Government, Inc. (NJFOG.org). As the name implies, NJFOG seeks to increase transparency in all governmental agencies that serve New Jersey residents.
I spent a half hour or so this afternoon searching the Authority’s Internet site for information on how to request a public record from the Authority. Although the Authority’s Open Records Policy was not too difficult to find (I found it at this link), I could not find the identity of and contact information for the Authority’s Open Records Officer (Policy Section III.D) nor could I find the record request form that “shall be used by any person or entity who requests access to an Authority record.” (Policy Section VII.A). (Notes: The request form is supposed to be attached to the Policy as “Exhibit A,” but it is not. The only request form I could find on-line is the one here which appears to be solely for requests for accident and other police reports.)
The Authority’s policy of “promot[ing] greater transparency and accountability in its dealings” and making its nonexempt records “readily accessible for inspection, copying, or examination by members of the public,” while laudable, cannot be realized if those who seek records cannot obtain the request form or the name of and contact information for the person to whom the request form should be sent.
Please provide me with:
a) the most recent version of the Authority’s Open Records Policy;
b) the Authority’s records request form, and
c) the identity of and contact information for the Authority’s Open Records Officer.
Upon receipt, I will have NJFOG post these documents and information on its Internet site as a public resource. We also ask that you please consider having the Authority’s Internet site revised so that these documents and information can easily be found by members of the public.
Thank you very much for your attention to this matter.
I look forward to hearing from you.
New Jersey Foundation for Open Government (NJFOG)