Making an OPRA request – The basics
January 8, 2017
If you want to follow the activities of your local officials, I recommend reading the meeting minutes of your Governing Body, Planning Board, et al. These minutes are government records. They are also public records – and, by law, they are available to you upon request. Welcome to OPRA – the Open Public Records Act – your key to accessing New Jersey’s public records.
Making an OPRA request
Accessing public records is fairly simple and straightforward. Sometimes, depending on the complexity of your request, the response may get nutty. Nonetheless, begin with the following:
First, visit your municipal or Board of Education web site. I’ll use the Borough of Allendale in this discussion. Their web site is http://www.AllendaleNJ.gov – where they regularly post recent meeting agendas and minutes, resolutions, ordinances, and more. If you have questions about the site, contact the Borough Hall and ask for the Borough Clerk’s office.
Or, if the records you seek are not available on-line, you will need to visit the Borough Hall and ask for the Office of the Records Custodian, typically the Borough Clerk’s office.
Typically, you will be assisted by a member of the Borough administrative staff who will help you locate your desired information. If the information is not readily available, you will be asked to make an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request. They will provide you with a form to complete.
Allendale’s OPRA form
Some people are intimidated by forms, but a well designed form can help clarify your needs while helping the Borough staff locate the desired records. Find below Allendale’s OPRA form.
No form is required
But, do you need to complete their form? Any form? Then answer is unequivocally NO! According to OPRA, a request need only be made IN WRITING. If you prepare your own written request and submit it in-person or via email, the Records Custodian must accept the request. Also, you do not have to identify yourself – you can be anonymous.
I always send my OPRA requests to the Records Custodian via email. In Allendale (or any Borough), it’s the Municipal Clerk.
In my email, I always include the following:
- A statement that I am making an OPRA request
- The list the documents I need – being as specific as possible
- Request that the documents be provided in PDF format
- Ask that the documents be returned to me via email
Below, I provide a submitted and completed OPRA request.
What happens next
An OPRA request begins a chain reaction of small legal events. The Records Custodian has a legal obligation to respond to your request within seven business days. They can provide your requested information, deny your request, or ask for more time to locate your information. The response must be in writing. If your request will require an extraordinary amount of time to process, they can require a special service charge.
Find below a sequence of emails that initiated and completed one of my recent OPRA requests for Planning Board closed session minutes. Given that confidential information was involved, many Borough staff and attorneys had to participate in the processing of my request. At the end of this document I include the requested albeit heavy redacted documents.
Learn from the experts
Find below a video segment that details some of the specifics of making a basic OPRA request.
This video was published on YouTube on Apr 19, 2014 – NJFOG’s 2012 Open Government Workshop: Session 5 providing information on how to write a proper OPRA request along with what and what not to include in one.
Note: The above article provides a simple guide to making an OPRA request. It can get very complicated. Please consult an attorney or your Records Custodian for more details.