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7/16/2019 - OPRA Crisis Update: Escalating OPRA Requests Costly to Taxpayers

OPRA Crisis Update:  Escalating OPRA Requests Costly to Taxpayers

Despite an escalating $300,000 cost to taxpayers, the inundation of public employee’s time and the draining of resources away from legitimate public services, OPRA requests continue to be on the rise in Hamilton, with politically-motivated individuals leading the way.

Through July 1, 2018, Hamilton received 522 OPRA request in the first half of that year, on the way to a record 1,756 requests that year, which generated to over 60,000 pages of public documents being released. 

Through July 16, 2019, a total of 1,263 OPRA requests have already been submitted (356 from one politically motivated individual alone) – well on the way to reaching more than 2,500 by year’s end if the current pace continues.

Compared to 2016, just 525 OPRA requests came in that entire year.

And some of the leading culprits of the escalating OPRA requests have continued to be politically-motivated

Then there are OPRA requests submitted anonymously.  In the first half of 2019, Hamilton received 233 requests from aliases hiding the true submitters identity.   Interestingly, the wording of many of these requests were either similarly worded to other OPRA requests or similarly to the words and emails of some members of the Hamilton Township Council.  

“The New Jersey State Legislature has allowed OPRA to become a boondoggle, while the average New Jersey taxpayer suffers the consequences of a poorly set-up system that rewards politically-motivated abusers who exploit the law to harass local officials, along with the lawyers they use to sue towns,” says Mayor Kelly Yaede.  “But what is an even bigger punch to the gut for every taxpayer is the fact that ‘legislative records’ are one of the few exceptions to New Jersey’s OPRA laws, shielding State Legislators from any actual consequences of the flawed system they created.”

If a judge rules against a town being sued for its handling of OPRA requests, the litigant’s attorney is automatically awarded ‘legal fees’ which the town must pay – ultimately at a cost to taxpayers.  The law thus supports such representation at no legal expense to the requester.  And yet, if the town is victorious, the litigant does not have to pay the town’s legal fees.

Similarly, while towns can request extensions, there are no State regulations that would either automatically extend deadlines, especially when the same submitter inundates officials with numerous OPRA requests at the same time.

“The abuses we are highlighting have nothing to do with transparency; rather, they are how politically-motivated individuals subsidizing their efforts on the backs of taxpayers, while trying to bring legitimate government services to a grinding halt,” says Yaede.