Thursday, January 29, 2009

The OPRA request form works both ways

I am getting a bit frustrated with records custodians who, on one hand, won't honor records requests that are not on their "official" request forms, but then do not use the forms themselves to reply to a request.

Here is my note today to Teaneck Township Clerk Lissette Aportela-Hernandez. Teaneck's OPRA request form here.

In your January 5, 2009 email to me, you insisted that I complete the Township’s official OPRA Request form. In that email, you stated: “Under the ruling of the GRC, you are required to fill out the attached form. I cannot process your request until I have received a completed Request for Access to Government Records form. Please complete the form and you may fax it to 201-837-9547 and it will be processed accordingly.” Yet, you did not use your form when you responded to my request. Rather, you responded by way of two letters, dated January 12, 2009 and January 15, 2009, both on Township letterhead.

N.J.S.A. 47:1A-5(f) requires you to adopt a form that provides, among other things, a "space for the custodian to indicate which record will be made available" and a "space for the custodian to list reasons if a request is denied in whole or in part." N.J.S.A. 47:1A-5(g) specifically requires you to "sign and date the form and provide the requestor with a copy thereof." The third page of your form includes, consistent with these statutes, spaces for you to list the reasons why any records were not disclosed and for you to sign and date the form.

My question is this: While you are within your rights to insist that requestors complete your agency's specific request form, what justifies you NOT using the form, as required by statute, to reply to records requests? I look forward to hearing from you.

Originally distributed on January 16, 2009

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