In Flemington Borough, a special service charge will now apply to OPRA requests that are expected to take more than 2 hours to fill. The mayor has stated that the large majority of requests would not be affected.
Under OPRA, a special service charge is allowed for requests that take a great deal of time and effort to fill. Generally, as a rule, the calculation of the man-hours charge should be based on the cost of the lowest paid employee capable of doing the job.
However, opinions differ as to when a special service charge is appropriate. There is also room for abuse. A less-than-forthright public agency, for example, could assess such a fee as a means to deter a requestor or block disclosure of certain records.
Flemington’s general 2-hour criteria raises some additional questions. For example, could the 2-hour rule trigger a special service charge when a lengthy hunt is required to find documents that are poorly organized? Or when time-consuming coordination is required to obtain documents from multiple offices? Or when extra time is needed for review and redaction, such as for standard records like closed session minutes? Or for the time needed to compile multiple years’ worth of basic financial documents such as budgets and audits that can run into the hundreds of pages, and that can easily be provided online for many past fiscal years? Or when time is spent printing and scanning records that could have been provided in their native file format (e.g., Excel file), especially if the native format was requested?
The above examples demonstrate why a single criteria may not work well as the basis for determining when a special service charge is appropriate.
Flemington Hikes Fees for Some Records Requests
by Curtis Leeds
April 14, 2017