It's Sunshine Week, Understand your Right to Know
Wednesday, March 16, 2011 • 3:53pm
To be an engaged citizenry we must be an informed citizenry. This is a key tenet of our democracy, and gets to the very core of what PatesronPress.com is all about.
We launched PatersonPress.com to make sure Silk City residents are getting the news they need to participate in community decision making. Which is why we’re pleased to join the Sunshine Week celebration by bringing our readers some simple tips for accessing local public records.
Where can I get public records?
First, determine which local government agency you would like information from.
If you want records about municipal government, including information about the cities boards and commissions, then you will need to contact the Paterson City Clerk, Jane Williams Warren at (973) 321-1310 or visit the Clerk’s Office in City Hall at 155 Market Street and request an “Open Public Records Act Request Form,” aka “OPRA Form.”
If you want Police Reports or Accident Reports, or other records from the Paterson Police Department, contact the police department at (973) 321-1111.
Requests for county records, should be made with the Passaic County Clerk, at (973) 881-4777 or visit the County Clerk’s Office at 401 Grand Street in Paterson.
What types of records can I request?
With a few exceptions, you have access to any paper, drawing, map, plan, report, or other document that has been made, maintained, or kept on file in connection to official business of the government. This includes copies of the municipal budget, government contracts, planning board applications, minutes of meetings, ordinances, and resolutions.
Some of the exceptions to the law are personnel records; records that are deemed “consultative, deliberative, or advisory; or documents relating to pending litigation. A full list of exemptions can be found here.
How much do public records cost?
For photocopies of paper records, letter-sized pages are .05 cents per page and legal-sized pages are .07 cents per page. If you request information on a CD the public entity is only allowed to charge the “actual cost," previous court rulings have set "actual cost" as $1.
I filed my request, now what?
Certain public records must be made available immediately on request, including:
- Budgets (Not inclusive of working documents) Bills, Vouchers, and Contracts Collective Negotiation Agreements (Final) Individual Employment Contracts Employee Salaries and Overtime Information
- Approved Minutes, Ordinances & Resolutions (Not Drafts)
For all other requests, the records custodian has 7 days to comply or deny your request.
If your request was denied, you may seek free mediation from the Government Records Council.