The Citizens Campaign: Insider Tips For Accessing Public Records

Back on November 18th the Hyperlocal News Association along with the Citizens’s Campaign held a workshop on OPRA and the Sunshine Law, I couldn’t attend but a few people that I know did.

From all accounts, including the video of the workshop below, it was a lively and insightful event that engaged all that were in attendance and provided a wealth of information to those that believe in honest, open and transparent government while giving guidance to those who are interested in how to file OPRA requests with their local governing bodies or governmental entities.
Of particular interest to those who live in Middletown and have ever tried to get information from the Middletown Sewerage Authority (TOMSA), this workshop made it clear that TOMSA is in clear violation of the OPRA law.
People who have inquired about TOMSA policies for providing documents like the budget or bill lists, are told that they are only in paper form and that those in the TOMSA office don’t have the ability to scan them, so documents can’t be provided via email or CD.
If there are any documents that just happen to be in electronic form, only TOMSA Director Patrick Parkinson can approve a request to deliver it via email or on CD. Parkinson then, in violation of existing OPRA rules and fee schedules, determines how much to charge requesters for information requested.
As a case in point, when Sean Byrnes was a sitting Committeeman on the Middletown Township Committee, he was charged an outlandish fee of $75 for a copy of the TOMSA budget! How crazy is that?
The video below is long, it runs for an hour and 42 minutes and I hope that readers can sit through it because when the floor is opened up for a Q&A a lot of problems that people are having trouble with in other towns sounds eerily similar to those problems that people in Middletown come up against when requesting information.

As an FYI to go along with this, NJ State Senator Lorretta Weinberg is working to update the Sunshine and OPRA laws. Senate bill S. 1351 increases from 48 hrs to 3 days the advance notice requirement for agendas, and brings the OPRA law (passed in 1975) up to date with technology, among other changes.

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Filed under Hyperlocal News Association, Lorretta Weinberg, OPRA, Patrick Parkinson, sunshine laws, the Citizens Campaign, TOMSA, workshop meeting

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