TRENTON, N.J. — A New Jersey appeals court has found that Edison Township's attempt to charge $55 for a copy of its council meeting minutes was unreasonable and an attempt to discourage public access to government's workings.
The unanimous ruling by the three-member panel in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, issued March 23, was a victory for open-government advocates and the Libertarian Party, which requested the minutes be copied onto a diskette it provided to Edison clerks.
"The only discernible rationale for the fee is to discourage the public from requesting the information in this format," wrote Appellate Division Court Judge Jose Feints. "Such a policy is not legally sustainable."
The court sent the case back to the Middlesex County assignment judge to determine what would be a reasonable fee.
The case was argued in November. Edison Mayor Jun Choi, who took office in January and has said he wants to make the township's workings "open and transparent," said he accepted the ruling.
"I'm sure we can come up with a mutually acceptable rate," Choi told The Star-Ledger of Newark for the March 24 edition. "It's a new day in Edison. We have some questions why the previous administration even contested this in court."
Edison Township's records custodian originally told Libertarian Party secretary John Paff that the records were available without charge on the township's Web site. But Paff said minutes often were not added to the site for several weeks.
Additionally, New Jersey's Open Public Records Act requires that public records, such as meeting minutes, be made available to anyone who requests them in any format — electronic, paper or otherwise — in which the records already exist.
Requesters do not need to explain why they are seeking the records, according to the law. Documents must be turned over promptly, no later than seven business days after a request is filed.