New Jersey Paper Sues Town Over $1,100 Fee For Documents

By: Joe Strupp The Courier News of Bridgewater, N.J., has filed suit against a local municipality that declined to provide payroll records unless the newspaper paid $1,100 in fees, the paper reported.

Raritan Borough is one of hundreds of New Jersey communities that were targeted in the series that spanned six Gannett newspapers in the state, including the Asbury Park Press of Neptune.

The suit was filed in Somerset County in the Civil Division of Superior Court on behalf of the six newspapers, which made the request for payroll information from more than 200 municipalities around the state.

"We don't take this action lightly, but it is important for those in power to understand that the people have a right to know how their tax money is being spent," Hollis R. Towns, executive editor and vice president of news at the Press, said in a story. "The Legislature recognized this by passing the Open Public Records Act. For local officials to charge exorbitant fees for public information is scandalous.

"We feel strongly that access to public records should be simple and inexpensive for any citizen, regardless of income. We will aggressively spotlight these cases - and go to court when necessary - when we feel that is not the case."

The story reported that in Monmouth and Ocean counties, 41 out of the 86 towns complied with the Press' requests, "all for little or no cost." It added, "46 others did not comply with the requests under OPRA. Of those, 28 towns wanted fees between $80 and $598; 15 towns said they could only provide paper printouts and two did not respond."

Thomas Cafferty, a Courier News attorney, said the suit focuses on the newspaper's right to obtain the information [in a computer format] and the borough asking for a special service charge to put the information in that format.

Paul Rizzo, Raritan Borough's attorney, said the lawsuit was "frivolous" and "factually inaccurate," the story reported.


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