FLEMINGTON, NJ – Officials here have hiked the fees that will be charged to those who submit “complex” requests under the state’s Open Public Record Act, Mayor Phil Greiner said at Wednesday’s Borough Council meeting.
The price increase was decided at an April 3 meeting that was requested by the borough’s office staff, Greiner said. The meeting included the mayor, council members Kim Tilly and Marc Hain and Borough Attorney Barry Goodman.
“This would not affect the large majority of OPRA requests,” the mayor said, “but would affect a few that contain page after page of requests.”
Under the new rule, if borough Clerk Sallie Graziano receives a records request under OPRA that she expects will take more than two hours to fulfill, she’ll provide the requestor with an estimate of the cost to fulfill the request.
The estimate will be based on the regular hourly fees of those required to fulfill the request, Greiner said, including Graziano and borough attorneys.
If they accept the estimate, requestors “will be asked to pay one-third of the estimated cost in advance,” Greiner said. “If they decline, the requested information will not be provided.
“This practice is within the auspices of the clerk under the OPRA law to administer,” the mayor added, “and therefore does not require Council resolution” to authorize the fees.
At Council meetings, officials here have frequently complained about some of the OPRA requests, with the mayor alleging that some are filed as “punishment” for actions taken towards redevelopment of the Union Hotel and surrounding properties. Such requests “punish the clerk,” the mayor has said, because the burden of providing the documents falls to Graziano.
The requests have also been the subject of lawsuits. Documents requested under two of the suits, filed by the Friends of Historic Flemington group that seeks to protect the hotel from demolition, have been provided, borough attorney Barry Goodman told Council. The borough has sought dismissal of the suits, Goodman said, who characterized the suits as ‘frivolous” and said he intends to “reserve our right to seek attorney’s fees” from the Friends group.
A third suit, filed on behalf of Friends of Historic Flemington, resident Lois Stewart and Gary Schotland, alleged that a Council meeting held at Borough Hall was in a room “too small to accommodate all of the members of the public who attempted to attend the meeting.” When the meeting was later held at the old Historic Courthouse “inadequate notice” of the change in location was alleged, Goodman said, and those counts have been dismissed.
Another count in that suit charged that resident Edna Pedrick was allowed to speak longer than others, and Goodman said that count has now been dismissed “voluntarily ... without prejudice, so that they can bring (the charge) again,” Goodman said.
“We have notified them that we thought that was a frivolous count,” he added. Although the suit is “no longer pending,” Goodman said, “We have reserved our right to go forward and seek attorney’s fees if they go forward.”