We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again. Settlement agreements to which a governmental agency is a party — and for which taxpayers are on the hook directly or through the cost of insurance — are public records under New Jersey’s OPRA law.
Last week NJFOG board member and transparency advocate John Paff reported on a Sparta BoE settlement agreement that he requested and obtained, and the New Jersey Herald picked up the story. Shortly thereafter, Paff received a letter from the plaintiff’s attorney demanding that Paff “cease and desist” from publicizing the settlement, which the attorney deemed unauthorized disclosure.
Paff naturally responded in another blog post in which he points out: 1) confidentiality clauses in these settlement agreements bind only the parties, 2) no defamation or privacy violation results from his straightforward reporting of the settlement, 3) repeat of any false statements in the court filings would certainly be protected, and 4) the public has a right to know.
“It would be a sad day for government transparency if the recipients of public agency settlement dollars could prevent the taxpayers from learning the settlement amounts.” – John Paff