Home>Highlight>OPRA disputes settled far too slowly, comptroller’s report says

Acting New Jersey State Comptroller Kevin Walsh. (Photo: Office of the State Comptroller).

OPRA disputes settled far too slowly, comptroller’s report says

Walsh says delays ‘undermine our commitment to transparency’

By Joey Fox, July 26 2022 10:32 am

If you’ve been denied the ability to access public records via the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) and filed a complaint, you may have a long wait ahead of you to – an average of 21 months, in fact.

That’s according to a report released this morning from the Office of the State Comptroller (OSC), which found that the Government Records Council (GRC), the Department of Community Affairs entity in charge of adjudicating disputes over OPRA requests, is plagued by delays and understaffing.

Under state law, when a member of the public contests a decision from a state agency or local government to deny their OPRA request, the GRC must settle the dispute “as expeditiously as possible.” But acting State Comptroller Kevin Walsh said in the report that expeditiousness has not been the GRC’s forte.

“Getting the documents that show what elected officials and public employees are doing is the first step in holding government accountable,” Walsh said. “The Open Public Records Act promised New Jerseyans quick access to public records. Taking almost two years to decide disputes over public records undermines our commitment to transparency. GRC can do better.”

The OSC report blamed the delays in part on the GRC’s lack of budget and staff. The council currently has a budget of $489,000 and a four-member staff, both of which are well down from their peaks in 2006-2007.

To solve the problem, the report recommended that the GRC hire more attorneys, request more funding from the state legislature if necessary, and publish information about how long dispute resolutions take; it also advised the legislature to amend OPRA to allow for more efficient adjudication processes.

“The good news is that these are easily solvable problems,” Walsh said. “GRC can move quickly to help New Jerseyans get access to public records. With quicker access to public records, New Jerseyans will have the information they need to ask questions, get answers, and make our democracy stronger.”

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