(UnitedVoice.com) – Over the last several decades, state legislatures passed laws requiring local governments, school districts, and public entities to provide information to residents and groups. Often, citizens don’t readily know what their local governments or school districts are doing. Open records allow the public to monitor how their government functions and works for them. Universally, the government entities must provide the requested documents unless there is a specific reason to withhold the request. Embarrassment is not an acceptable reason.
In recent years, government entities have tried to turn the tables on residents seeking legal information. Instead of providing a legal basis for withholding information, some government agencies resorted to suing those who request information. In almost every instance, the citizen wins in court, but they are stuck paying their legal bills. Even if they win, they still lose. In New Jersey, a Democratic-led township is suing an elderly resident claiming her requests are frivolous and amount to abuse and harassment of public officials, but is that really true?
New Jersey Town Sues Elderly Resident Over Records Requests
Retired schoolteacher Elouise McDaniel, 82, keeps a close eye on what her township officials are doing and how they spend taxpayer dollars. Irvington Township officials apparently disapprove of her regular records requests. They say she filed 75 open records requests over the last three years. While that may sound daunting, it works out to an average of two information requests per month.
The township claims McDaniel’s requests are expensive and time burdensome. Officials allege McDaniel filed complaints about Irvington Mayor Tony Vauss’ administration with the Office of the Attorney General and other state agencies that were frivolous, amounting to harassment. The lawsuit accuses McDaniel of defamation, harassment, and malicious abuse of process.
McDaniel said she believes the lawsuit against her is political.
Does McDaniel Have a Right to Government Records
In 2015, a New Jersey Judge ruled lawsuits by government agencies against citizens over records requests were the antithesis of the purpose of open records laws. Attorney CJ Griffin of Hackensack, NJ, told NJ Advance Media if the lawsuit is successful, it will set a dangerous precedent regardless of how many open records a citizen requests. Griffin said, in his opinion, her requests are in no way harassment.
New Jersey laws don’t limit the number of requests a citizen or advocacy group can make. Still, McDaniel said she doesn’t have money to hire an attorney. At her age, the retired teacher says she wants to focus her energy on advocacy efforts.
Interestingly, no one knows who authorized the lawsuit against McDaniel. Mayor Tony Vauss said it wasn’t him. Township Clerk Harold Wiener also declined to take responsibility for the lawsuit. He told NJ Advance Media McDaniel does file many requests, but those requests come with the job. Wiener added he doesn’t have a problem with McDaniel’s requests.
So, will the township move forward with the lawsuit against the elderly lady? How do residents feel about the action?
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