OPRA dispute heads to mediation

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WILDWOOD- A resident that filed three complaints with the state because she was denied city records said the New Jersey Government Records Council is now mediating the matter.

Mary Ann Giblin, who twice requested information regarding the purchase of property on Pacific Avenue for an ice rink and also sought records about a proposed beach utility, said that the mediation is ongoing.

According to the council, mediation is an “informal, non-adversarial, voluntary” process. While it is not a legal proceeding, the mediation is headed by an attorney trained in the Open Public Records Act. There is no cost to either party for the service, and “ultimately, the parties control whether and how the dispute is resolved.”

However, if a settlement is reached, it will be written, signed and becomes binding.

Giblin said she had submitted the first request Sept. 7 of last year for “all bills, invoices, and payments, including cash payments, pertaining to the purchase of 3400 Pacific Ave.” She also requested a copy of the agreement of sale for the property.

To both those requests, the city responded that no records were kept, made, or maintained on file.

On Sept. 28, she then requested those documents again, but was more precise about what she was looking for, Giblin said. Those requests were again denied with the same message, she said.

During litigation between a group of petitioners (including Giblin) and the city regarding the ice rink, Giblin said that all of these documents surfaced during discovery.

“Now I still never got the information from the city official responsible for sharing government documents,” Giblin said Friday.

She had also requested documents regarding a beach utility budget, list of employees and payroll, advisory board members, legal advisory members, and management members. That was only partially filled, Giblin said.

In November of last year, City Commissioners held a special meeting to curb OPRA requests that Mayor Ernie Troiano Jr. called an “abuse of the system.”

For example, Troiano said, many of the requests were vague, or too wide-reaching and included the phrase “any and all.”

At the time, the city was looking into what was appropriate to charge for OPRA requests that required an extensive amount of time or research.

Under the act, copies of records are 5 cents per letter-sized page and 7 cents for legal-sized pages. If an agency can prove that the actual cost of copying the document is more than that standard, then they can charge for the actual cost- which is defined as the cost of materials and supplies to meet the request. The cost can not include the cost of labor or other overhead expenses associated with making the copy, according to the state act.

Clerk Chris Wood said his office had filled over 150 OPRA requests, some with over 250 pages of paper work. He said that there was one city hall employee who spent 95 percent of his or her time filling OPRA requests. In the past week, he said there had been 15 requests. 

Wood said that he would like to see the matter with Giblin resolved. 

"We’d like to have it resolved but the fact of the matter is, with the Government Records Council, this could take several years," he said Tuesday. 

Giblin said Friday that these complaints from the city were to make her look bad.

“These complaints about the OPRA requests being put in, it’s propaganda to make me look like a big bad guy,” she said.

At the Leader, reporters have submitted OPRA requests to the city on several occasions. Usually, these requests are filled within the seven-day window granted by the act. On one occasion, a request was met with a response asking for more details, which were provided. After that, however, the city did not respond. On another occasion, records were provided after the seven-day deadline.

 

Christie Rotondo can be emailed at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or you can comment on this story at  wildwood.shorenewstoday.com .


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