BOE move to print names sparks controversy

| 15 Feb 2012 | 10:32

    Superintendent to recommend board rethink decision Sparta — An effort by the Board of Education to inform the public about the costs and time spent by staff to fulfill Open Public Records (OPRA) requests, as well as the names of individuals making those requests, has received some serious opposition. Objectors said it is not the listing of OPRA requests that concerns them, it's publishing the names of requestors to which they are opposed. Last month the board began what they said will be a monthly practice of printing this information on their meeting agenda. The November list included five OPRA requests made between Sept. 30 and Oct. 24. The least amount of time reportedly spent on one request was 15 minutes and the most time was spent on two requests from one individual totaling six hours and 15 minutes. Associated legal costs will be reported when the district receives the bills. (This would be the cost of having an attorney approve the release of a particular record if the record custodian isn't sure if it can be made public) Two citizens whose names appeared on the recent agenda lodged vehement objections at the meeting and the editor of the New Jersey Herald has issued an editorial denouncing the board’s action as an “intimidation tactic.” Schools Superintendent Dr. Thomas Morton said the board asked him to provide the costs and time spent fulfilling OPRA requests, including the names of requestors, since questions have frequently been raised on the subject by both board members and members of the public. Morton said the information sought by OPRA requestors is public information and well within their rights to obtain under the law, their names, the subject of their requests, along with the time and cost to fulfill them, is also public information. Since anyone can request this information, Morton said the board asked him to make it public on the monthly meeting agenda. Those opposing the action believe that the fact that it may be available to the public doesn't make it necessary. Morton said this week, “It was certainly never our intent to embarrass or intimidate anyone. I was providing the information the board asked me to provide.” Morton added, “However, none of this has anything to do with the education of the children of this district. That should be our focus. It would not be my recommendation for either myself, or any other district staff member or official to focus on this issue rather than on education.” For this reason, Morton said he will recommend to the board that they rethink publishing the names of those who file OPRA requests on upcoming agendas. He said the matter would likely be discussed at the next Operations Committee meeting and the committee’s recommendation will be brought to the December board meeting. New Jersey’s Open Public Meetings Act, popularly known as the “Sunshine Law”, was approved on Oct. 21, 1975 and became effective on Jan. 19, 1976. The law is intended to ensure that decision-making government bodies in the state conduct their businesses in public. Citizens have the right to be present for public meetings and to request public documents or information, except in specific circumstances where exclusion of the public is needed to protect the privacy of individuals, the safety of the public, or the effectiveness of government in such areas as negotiations or investigations.