Thursday, January 29, 2009

Township to charge 7c per copy

Andover Township's willingness to lower its per-page record cost from 75c to 7c might help convince other local public bodies do the same. Please consider sending the following article to your local mayor and/or school board.

New Jersey Herald - Newton, New Jersey

January 27, 2009

Andover to cut cost of public records

By SETH AUGENSTEIN

ANDOVER TWP. -- Andover Township is expected to be the latest municipality to make its government records more financially accessible to the public.

The Township Committee unanimously introduced an ordinance Monday night significantly lowering costs of all paper documents and audio recordings of meetings.

Paper copies will cost 7 cents per page, and CD audio recordings of meetings will cost 40 cents each, if the ordinance is approved.

Andover is on a wave of change for many towns that are changing their Open Public Records Act fees as a response to statewide but locally based activism. Cities and towns across New Jersey treat costs prescribed through the OPRA differently. Many do adhere to the maximum cost of paper copies outlined in the law -- 75 cents for the first 10 pages copied, 50 cents for pages 11 through 20, and 25 cents for all pages afterward. Audio recordings, including CD and tape copies of municipal meetings, are supposed to adhere to "actual cost" of the material on which the recordings are copied -- such as a blank CD or tape -- but towns may impose service charges above and beyond that actual cost.

Andover currently charges the state maximum for paper copies, and had charged actual cost for CD audio recordings at $2.40. The change is being brought about at least partly after noted open government advocate Martin O'Shea, of Stockholm, addressed the fee schedule in several rounds of correspondence with various township officials. Sparta resident Jesse Wolosky had also contacted the township about its CD costs.

Several Sussex County towns are also currently considering changing their OPRA fees, according to several municipal clerks.

"These issues are under great scrutiny these days," said Andover Township Mayor Bob Smith.

Andover Township also added another layer of transparency to its meetings, by explaining the individual topics of their executive session to the public Monday evening. A general rundown of those privileged topics, which often involve personnel issues or litigation, is a goal of many open government advocates such as O'Shea and John Paff, who chairs the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project.

Originally distributed on January 27, 2009

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