Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Custodians may tell citizens to "present" OPRA forms during business hours

Prior to the Appellate Division's ruling in Renna v. County of Union, record requestors were required to use an agency's specific OPRA request form.  In the pre-Renna days (and to a lesser extent now), I became concerned when a custodian's request form contained false information or otherwise misled requestors as to their rights under OPRA.

The form used by the High Bridge (Hunterdon County) Board of Education, and other school boards, contained a provision that I felt--and still feel--is misleading. Specifically, the High Bridge Board's form stated: “This form must be completed and presented to the Office of the Board Secretary between the hours of 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., Monday – Friday when offices are normally open.”

I believe that this language could lead some requestors to erroneously believe that their request forms would not be accepted unless they were personally DELIVERED to the Board Secretary during normal business hours.  Some requestors, especially those who work during normal business hours, might be dissuaded from exercising their rights under OPRA if they believed that they were not allowed to mail, fax or otherwise electronically submit their requests. 

I filed a complaint on September 26, 2008 asking the Government Records Council (GRC) to rule that the form's language violated OPRA.  On November 18, 2009, the GRC ruled against me.  It held that the word "present," which is defined in the dictionary as “to offer for observation, examination, or consideration,” is broad enough to include mailed, faxed and other transmittal methods.

A copy of the High Bridge Board's request form and the GRC's decision are on-line here.

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