In a May 24, 2011 decision, the Government Records Council (GRC) held that that it is improper for a records custodian to simply cite a statute as its reason for suppressing or redacting a document. The GRC stated that “simply citing to a specific provision of a law would force a requestor to search out the law and identify those provisions that may apply. It is often possible that members of the New Jersey citizenry would have no knowledge of where to find a particular statute or be able to single out the exemption within the statute that authorizes a redaction.” The case is Paff v. Teaneck Township, GRC Complaint No. 2010-09 and is available on-line here.

At issue was the Teaneck Township Council’s October 28, 2008 executive session minutes. In response to my OPRA request, the Township provided me with the minutes with large blocks of text redacted. As an example, a large block of redacted text appeared after the heading “Compliance with the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices.” The only reason that the custodian gave for the redaction was “N.J.S.A. 10:4-12b7.” (That page from the minutes is at page 33 of the PDF at the above link.)

The GRC said that “the Custodian should have included an explanation of each legal citation similar to how the Custodian set forth same in the document index submitted as part of the [Statement of Information] SOI.” In its SOI, the Custodian gave the following reason for redacting the portion of the minutes dealing with Uniform Traffic Control Devices manual compliance: “Potential litigation and liability regarding installation of certain traffic control devises [sic] and attorney-client communications in connection therewith.”

Chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project. Please send all comments to [email protected]