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Fair Haven officials favor examining Open Public Records Act requests

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FAIR HAVEN – Mayor Benjamin Lucarelli has said it is wise to “re-examine a law that has run amuck” after saying some people have abused the New Jersey Open Public Records Act (OPRA).

“OPRA says that every document we pass is a public record. That means everyone has the right to see what it is we do,” Lucarrelli said during a Borough Council meeting on Nov. 12.

An OPRA is a formal request for public information that can, for example, be filed with a municipality. After a request has been filed, the government entity that is being asked to provide the information has seven days to provide the information or to inform the requestor why the information will not be provided.

“What some of the more heinous businesses have done is to demand (the names of people who have) all of the dog licenses in our town and then tell dog food manufacturers where to focus their advertising dollars,” Lucarelli said. “We don’t think that’s fair and also it could become abusive.”

Lucarelli said the council members will ask the New Jersey State League of Municipalities, which represents all of the Garden State’s communities, to review OPRA “to lessen the burden on borough staff,” yet “preserve the public’s right to information.”

No other member of the governing body commented on the matter.

In an interview after the meeting, Lucarelli said the Municipal Clerks’ Association of New Jersey brought this matter forward. He said Borough Clerk Alison Cinquegrana is a member of the organization, Lucarelli said.

“I think the thought with this (action) is to try and balance the public’s right to know with the burden that is often put on the borough office staff,” Lucarelli said.

In larger municipalities, Lucarelli said, several people may be employed just to respond to OPRA requests. In Fair Haven, Cinquegrana, in addition to her other duties, fulfills OPRA requests that are filed with the municipality.

“(An individual) who wants to find out about something going on in town (or other information) … that is fine,” Lucarelli said. “Companies coming in and saying ‘give me all your data on how many pets are in town so I can take that (data) and sell it’ (is abusive).”

Citing an example of OPRA “abuse,” Lucarelli said several Fair Haven residents hired an attorney to fight the approval of a Dunkin’ Donuts in town. He said the attorney who represents the residents “is being abusive in the fact that he … makes several OPRA requests for the same information.”

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