Response to NJ Spotlight’s Open Records Request — ‘Open’ in Name Only

An attempt to turn up more information about a controversial administration bill to subsidize power plants returns 197 pages of heavily redacted documents

Redacted OPRA Request
Perhaps the Christie’s administration’s legal team will have more luck in ferreting out public records than NJ Spotlight.

This week it was disclosed that lawyers representing the governor’s office filed an open records request with the borough of Fort Lee. They were seeking information about local officials’ interaction with reporters regarding the mushrooming scandal involving the closing of access lanes to the George Washington Bridge.

The Open Records Act (OPRA) guarantees public access to most records of government agencies, with certain exceptions — an exemption that can be broadly applied, as this website has learned.

Back in 2010, the Christie administration was promoting a controversial bill to subsidize new power plants in New Jersey as a means of lowering high electric bills. The proposal, however, drew opposition from consumers, existing power suppliers, and others because they argued it would cost ratepayers more than $2 billion. In the end, a federal court overturned the program, although the state is appealing the decision.

When NJ Spotlight tried to find out more about the deliberations behind the bill, its OPRA request provided little, if no information. Most of the 197-page document was redacted.

About the only information to be gleaned from the OPRA request are the e-mails circulated between the governor’s office and the staff of the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities — and not much else, unless you include the names of lobbyists arguing on behalf of their clients.

The only recourse available to a person or organization unsatisfied with the response to an OPRA request is to file a denial of access claim with the Government Records Council, which operates out of the state Department of Community Affairs. The council, or an administrative law judge, is typically charged with making the decision regarding whether the redaction was appropriate or the request was met in a timely manner. However, the adjudication can take months.