Saturday, February 13, 2016

Transparency now: Gov't agency opens up

Last month, I wrote two articles about the GRC, which is in charge of adjudicating complaints after requests for government records are rejected. I detailed my Kafka-esque experience appealing a denied records request and attending GRC meetings. The meetings were unusual in their lack of transparency: Votes were held in public, for example, but the GRC didn't say which way it was voting. Yesterday, due in part to our reporting, the Christie administration announced three changes to the way GRC runs its meetings.

Transparency now: Gov't agency opens up

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Gov. Christie taking a look at a ceremonial pair of scissors at the grand opening of the Cooper Medical School at Rowan University last week. ( CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer )
Gov. Christie taking a look at a ceremonial pair of scissors at the grand opening of the Cooper Medical School at Rowan University last week. ( CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer )

The curtains have been pulled open at the Government Records Council.

Last month, I wrote two articles about the GRC, which is in charge of adjudicating complaints after requests for government records are rejected. I detailed my Kafka-esque experience appealing a denied records request and attending GRC meetings.

The meetings were unusual in their lack of transparency: Votes were held in public, for example, but the GRC wouldn't say which way it was voting. 

Yesterday, due in part to our reporting, the Christie administration announced three changes to the way GRC runs its meetings:

  • All parties whose cases are scheduled for adjudication will be notified beforehand.
  • Because GRC attorneys make recommendations to council members about how to vote on each case, printed copies of those recommendations will be available at each meeting, so the public knows what is being voted on. Recommendations also will be available online the morning of the meeting.
  • Before each vote, the GRC chairman will read the name of the case and ask: "Is there any discussion regarding this matter?"

I stopped by the GRC's monthly meeting this morning, and sure enough, hard copies detailing each case before the GRC were available for the public. All the changes have been implemented. 

Also at the meeting? Community Affairs Commissioner Richard Constable III, the Christie cabinet member in charge of overseeing the GRC. He's relatively new in the position, and he said he wasn't aware of the problems there until he read my stories and met with Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D., Berger), who has been all over this issue.

"We made common-sense changes to make sure that the public is aware of matters that are pending and decisions being made," Constable told me. He also said the GRC would be "streamlining processes" so complaints are heard faster. 

Mark Lagerkvist, an independent investigative reporter and veteran of GRC meetings, was pleasantly surprised by the changes: "It's nice to see the concept of open public records actually applied to the records' council."

Curious about something in state government? Local government? Schools? File an OPRA request. If you get denied, appeal to the GRC. And let me know what happens next. 

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