2013 New Jersey Revised Statutes
Title 47 - PUBLIC RECORDS
Section 47:1A-7 - Government Records Council.
47:1A-7 Government Records Council.
8. a. There is established in the Department of Community Affairs a Government Records Council. The council shall consist of the Commissioner of Community Affairs or the commissioner's designee, the Commissioner of Education or the commissioner's designee, and three public members appointed by the Governor, with the advice and consent of the Senate, not more than two of whom shall be of the same political party. The three public members shall serve during the term of the Governor making the appointment and until the appointment of a successor. A public member shall not hold any other State or local elected or appointed office or employment while serving as a member of the council. A public member shall not receive a salary for service on the council but shall be reimbursed for reasonable and necessary expenses associated with serving on the council and may receive such per diem payment as may be provided in the annual appropriations act. A member may be removed by the Governor for cause. Vacancies among the public members shall be filled in the same manner in which the original appointment was made. The members of the council shall choose one of the public members to serve as the council's chair. The council may employ an executive director and such professional and clerical staff as it deems necessary and may call upon the Department of Community Affairs for such assistance as it deems necessary and may be available to it.
b.The Government Records Council shall:
establish an informal mediation program to facilitate the resolution of disputes regarding access to government records;
receive, hear, review and adjudicate a complaint filed by any person concerning a denial of access to a government record by a records custodian;
issue advisory opinions, on its own initiative, as to whether a particular type of record is a government record which is accessible to the public;
prepare guidelines and an informational pamphlet for use by records custodians in complying with the law governing access to public records;
prepare an informational pamphlet explaining the public's right of access to government records and the methods for resolving disputes regarding access, which records custodians shall make available to persons requesting access to a government record;
prepare lists for use by records custodians of the types of records in the possession of public agencies which are government records;
make training opportunities available for records custodians and other public officers and employees which explain the law governing access to public records; and
operate an informational website and a toll-free helpline staffed by knowledgeable employees of the council during regular business hours which shall enable any person, including records custodians, to call for information regarding the law governing access to public records and allow any person to request mediation or to file a complaint with the council when access has been denied;
In implementing the provisions of subsections d. and e. of this section, the council shall: act, to the maximum extent possible, at the convenience of the parties; utilize teleconferencing, faxing of documents, e-mail and similar forms of modern communication; and when in-person meetings are necessary, send representatives to meet with the parties at a location convenient to the parties.
c.At the request of the council, a public agency shall produce documents and ensure the attendance of witnesses with respect to the council's investigation of any complaint or the holding of any hearing.
d.Upon receipt of a written complaint signed by any person alleging that a custodian of a government record has improperly denied that person access to a government record, the council shall offer the parties the opportunity to resolve the dispute through mediation. Mediation shall enable a person who has been denied access to a government record and the custodian who denied or failed to provide access thereto to attempt to mediate the dispute through a process whereby a neutral mediator, who shall be trained in mediation selected by the council, acts to encourage and facilitate the resolution of the dispute. Mediation shall be an informal, nonadversarial process having the objective of helping the parties reach a mutually acceptable, voluntary agreement. The mediator shall assist the parties in identifying issues, foster joint problem solving, and explore settlement alternatives.
e.If any party declines mediation or if mediation fails to resolve the matter to the satisfaction of all parties, the council shall initiate an investigation concerning the facts and circumstances set forth in the complaint. The council shall make a determination as to whether the complaint is within its jurisdiction or frivolous or without any reasonable factual basis. If the council shall conclude that the complaint is outside its jurisdiction, frivolous or without factual basis, it shall reduce that conclusion to writing and transmit a copy thereof to the complainant and to the records custodian against whom the complaint was filed. Otherwise, the council shall notify the records custodian against whom the complaint was filed of the nature of the complaint and the facts and circumstances set forth therein. The custodian shall have the opportunity to present the board with any statement or information concerning the complaint which the custodian wishes. If the council is able to make a determination as to a record's accessibility based upon the complaint and the custodian's response thereto, it shall reduce that conclusion to writing and transmit a copy thereof to the complainant and to the records custodian against whom the complaint was filed. If the council is unable to make a determination as to a record's accessibility based upon the complaint and the custodian's response thereto, the council shall conduct a hearing on the matter in conformity with the rules and regulations provided for hearings by a State agency in contested cases under the "Administrative Procedure Act," P.L.1968, c.410 (C.52:14B-1 et seq.), insofar as they may be applicable and practicable. The council shall, by a majority vote of its members, render a decision as to whether the record which is the subject of the complaint is a government record which must be made available for public access pursuant to P.L.1963, c.73 (C.47:1A-1 et seq.) as amended and supplemented. If the council determines, by a majority vote of its members, that a custodian has knowingly and willfully violated P.L.1963, c.73 (C.47:1A-1 et seq.), as amended and supplemented, and is found to have unreasonably denied access under the totality of the circumstances, the council may impose the penalties provided for in section 12 of P.L.2001, c.404 (C.47:1A-11). A decision of the council may be appealed to the Appellate Division of the Superior Court. A decision of the council shall not have value as a precedent for any case initiated in Superior Court pursuant to section 7 of P.L.2001, c.404 (C.47:1A-6). All proceedings of the council pursuant to this subsection shall be conducted as expeditiously as possible.
f.The council shall not charge any party a fee in regard to actions filed with the council. The council shall be subject to the provisions of the "Open Public Meetings Act," P.L.1975, c.231 (C.10:4-6), except that the council may go into closed session during that portion of any proceeding during which the contents of a contested record would be disclosed. A requestor who prevails in any proceeding shall be entitled to a reasonable attorney's fee.
g.The council shall not have jurisdiction over the Judicial or Legislative Branches of State Government or any agency, officer, or employee of those branches.
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