by Dana DiFilippo, July 26, 2022, New Jersey Monitor
People fighting to get government records typically have to wait nearly two years for answers when they seek help from a state office created to give folks a fast, free alternative to suing for access, the Office of the State Comptroller found in a new report released Tuesday. The Government Records Council — which lawmakers created in 2002 to consider complaints from people denied information requested under the state’s Open Public Records Act — is understaffed and underfunded and hasn’t tweaked its “inefficient” processes since 2008, carrying an annual average backlog topping 400 cases, investigators found.
These problems have held up complaints the council received from 2012 through 2020 for 21 months, on average, while complaints involving complex issues can take more than six years to resolve, investigators found. The Open Public Records Act requires public entities to respond to requests for documents within seven days. People who want to challenge record denials can also sue, and investigators found the state judiciary does a far better job resolving such cases. The council’s sluggish pace, then, is an equity issue, because some people can’t afford an attorney and filing fees or might otherwise want to avoid litigation, the report says.