Wednesday, April 22, 2009

GRC requested (again) to amend Advisory Opinion 2006-1

Following is the text of a letter I sent to the Government Records Council today following up on my earlier requests for a rule change allowing records requestors to submit requests on either the agency's specific request form or the GRC's model request form. The letter, with attachments, is on-line here.

John Paff
Somerset, New Jersey

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New Jersey Libertarian Party
Open Government Advocacy Project
John Paff, Chairman
P.O. Box 5424
Somerset, NJ 08875-5424
Phone: 732-873-1251 - Fax: 908-325-0129
Email: lpsmc@pobox.com

April 22, 2009

Robin Berg Tabakin, Chairwoman
Government Records Council
PO Box 819
Trenton, NJ 08625-0819
(via e-mail to grc@dca.state.nj.us )

Dear Chairwoman Tabakin and Members of the Council:

You may recall that I have corresponded with the Council numerous times seeking an amendment to Advisory Opinion 2006-1. The amendment that I seek is simple and straightforward—to change the following sentence which is presently in the Advisory Opinion:

When an agency has not adopted its own official OPRA records request form, requestors may submit their records request on the Model Request Form located on the Government Records Council website (www.nj.gov/grc/).

to

A requestors may submit a request either on the official OPRA request form adopted by the agency or on the Model Request Form located on the Government Records Council website (www.nj.gov/grc/ ).

For your convenience, I have placed our previous exchange of correspondence on this issue on the Internet here. The most recent letter I have from the Council on this issue is Executive Director Starghill’s December 5, 2007 letter in which she informs me that the Council a) is considering my suggestion but b) will not honor my request to add the issue to the December 19, 2007 meeting agenda.

I am reminded of this issue today by a response I received to an OPRA request I submitted to the Woodbridge Township Fire District #2. Attached is a copy of my request (2 pages) followed by the response I received from the Fire District’s custodian (2 pages).

As you can see, I mailed my OPRA request to the Fire District on April 10, 2009, and I noted on the face of the request that I could not find the District’s specific OPRA request form on the Internet. Twelve days later—on April 22, 2009—the Custodian faxed me the Fire District’s specific OPRA request form.

As you can see, the Fire District’s form is virtually identical to the model form that I submitted. The only difference is that the Fire District’s form has a Maltese cross in the upper right and left corners of the form, where my version of the model form has “Transparent Government is Vital” written in those spaces instead.

The Fire District’s refusal to accept the model form instead of its virtually identical adopted form is not simply an inconvenience for record requestors. Rather, it trivializes the important rights that OPRA protects. It is the ultimate exaltation of form over substance—a bureaucrat’s Monty Pythonesque inflexible (and often tongue-in-cheek) adherence to the letter of the law overcoming and frustrating the obvious intent of the law.

Do you think that there’s a possibility that the Government Records Council might consider my proposed amendment in the near future?

Thank you for your attention to this matter. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

/s/ John Paff

cc. Woodbridge Fire District # 2 (w/o attachments)
(via Fax to 732-634-5411)

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