Court to rule by 4/29 on Sen. Weinberg’s OPRA complaint for records relating to the NJSEA’s January 15 vote to close the Izod Center. The NJSEA claims that records about the decision making process are exempt from OPRA as “Advisory, Consultative or Deliberative Material.” Weinberg’s attorney argued on 4/24 that all information should now be made public since the decision to close has already been made. (See UPDATE at bottom of post.) – NJFOG
The Bergen Dispatch
April 24, 2015
By Paul Nichols
(Full article here and also re-posted below.)
Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg attended a hearing in Bergen County Superior Court on Friday related to her lawsuit against the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority. Weinberg is seeking to force the agency to turn over documents on which it based its decision to close the IZOD Center.
The NJSEA, without public warning or notice, voted on Jan. 15 to close the IZOD Center. Senator Weinberg filed requests for information with the NJSEA under the Open Public Records Act, or OPRA, on Jan. 16, one day after the vote to close the facility. Many of the documents provided by the authority were redacted or incomplete.
On Friday, Bergen County Assignment Judge Peter E. Doyne heard arguments from attorneys representing the NJSEA to justify its refusal to provide the documents Weinberg had requested. Doyne said that he would render his decision by Wednesday, April 29, 2015 but urged both sides to work toward an agreement.
Doyne exclusively hears all OPRA matters in Bergen County.
Doyne praised Weinberg’s efforts to obtain information on the decision to close the center saying she was “serving the public’s interest”, however, he was less than optimistic that he would be ruling in her favor under current law.
The NJSEA claims that the redacted material is exempted from OPRA as “Advisory, Consultative or Deliberative Material”, an exemption allowed to protect government employees’ free flow of information when making decisions. Simply put, OPRA allows the public access to information but exempts material about the decision making process including discussions and negotiations leading up to those decisions.
Weinberg’s attorney argued that all information used in the process of making the decision to close the center should now be made available since the decision has already been made.
Immediately following the proceedings Senator Weinberg held a press conference surrounded by workers who lost their jobs when the NJSEA abruptly announced it would close the center. Weinberg questions claims by the NJSEA that the center had been losing $700,000 per month. Weinberg said that according to meeting minutes from October and November the center claimed it was having a ‘great year’ in 2014.
Weinberg remarked that she is in the process of reviewing the current OPRA law and intends to purse changes to make more information available to the public.
UPDATE: On April 29, 2015, a judge found that the OPRA request was overly broad but also confirmed Weinberg’s right to relevant financial documents related to the closure decision. See: http://www.northjersey.com/news/judge-dismisses-weinberg-suit-seeking-information-on-decision-to-close-izod-center-1.1321588