In a letter-to-the-editor, NJFOG responds to recent commentary by the Municipal Clerks Association regarding the OPRA reform legislation (S1046). Read our letter below and find more information about the OPRA and OPMA reform legislation on our website here.
OPRA update benefits town clerks, too
The New Jersey Foundation for Open Government wishes to respond to the 11/8/2017 letter “OPRA update mustn’t overly burden municipal clerks” by Kevin Galland, first vice president of the Municipal Clerks Association of New Jersey.
The Clerks Association’s opposition to the legislative reform sponsored by Senator Loretta Weinberg seems misguided because the legislation doesn’t significantly alter the duties of clerks but does make their job easier in several important ways.
S1045 and S1046 modernize the Open Public Meetings and Records Acts, respectively. A new requirement that many public documents be posted online may dramatically reduce the number of OPRA requests. In fact, an article touting Bloomfield Township’s online records portal states that it “has already reduced the number of OPRA requests submitted for Resolutions and Ordinances by 15%.”
Today, over 99% of the state’s municipalities have a website.
The legislation also clarifies which information is public, which should greatly benefit clerks by reducing the number of disputes. We agree with Mr. Galland that better training of municipal clerks – also public officials and agency attorneys – is needed to ensure the proper handling of records requests.
Mr. Galland expresses concern about a clerk’s personal liability if an error is made. However, fines are rarely assessed because they are meant to discourage intentional denials of access, not to penalize clerks when a challenge arises from a good faith effort to fill a request.
The drafters of OPRA recognized that citizen oversight of government is essential to ensure the good stewardship of public funds. Thus, providing access to public records is an integral responsibility of public agencies and should not be thought of as an extra expense. It is arguably one of the most important services that a public agency provides to its citizenry. If government is allowed to operate in the dark, taxpayers could end up paying a great deal more for everything else.
Members of the media are welcome to use this content or to re-publish in whole or in part.
The New Jersey Foundation for Open Government (NJFOG) is the only non-profit organization in the state dedicated solely to improving public access to governmental records and meetings. We work to educate the public about the Open Public Records Act and Open Public Meetings Act, to strengthen these laws, and to increase governmental compliance, transparency, and accountability.
Press of Atlantic City
Opinion – Voice of the People
“OPRA update benefits town clerks too”
Jan. 4, 2018