BOE changes its policy on printing names

| 15 Feb 2012 | 10:43

    Sparta — After strong public opposition to the Board of Education’s decision last month to publish names of those who made open records requests on their meeting agendas, the board has changed their tune and said Monday they will abandon the practice. The fast and furious response to the board’s first-time publication in November of the names of individuals who submitted Open Public Records Act (OPRA) requests to the district came only from a few individuals, but it was the vehemence of this opposition that surprised the board. Three individuals voiced stern criticism of the board’s move at last month’s meeting, another threatened a law suit if names appeared again, and the editor of the New Jersey Herald penned an op-ed piece calling the practice intimidation. Superintendent Dr. Thomas Morton said Monday he was surprised at the strong reaction, and stressed, “There was no intention to intimidate or embarrass anyone.” The idea to publicize the names, as well as staff time spent and any legal costs incurred came from board president Keith Smith. Smith said the reason was to answer frequent board and public questions as to the amount of money OPRA requests cost the district. The subject has come up at several board meetings and Morton has said on more than one occasion that, in his opinion, some OPRA requests have unnecessarily tied up staff time and cost the district extra legal expenses. However, the New Jersey Open Public Records Act states that individuals have the right to access public records, except for those which are not allowable under the law. The OPRA requests themselves then become public records and can be requested by anyone. Morton said this is why he had no objection to publishing the names on the board agenda, and noted that some who voiced opposition to the practice have themselves requested a list of those who have made OPRA requests. Nonetheless, Morton said Monday he recommended the board stop including the names on their agenda, but would continue to present a monthly report on the number of OPRA requests, staff time used, and any legal costs incurred. He said that since Sept. 29, the board received 16 OPRA requests which took 12 hours and five minutes of staff time. He said that for the months of October and November, legal costs associated with fulfilling OPRA requests have been $1,791.25.