I recently learned that the West Orange Board of Education assesses records requestors a $150 special service charge for each payroll report requested under the Open Public Record Act (OPRA). According to a July 31, 2012 e-mail from ADP, the payroll vendor (available here), the company apparently does charge the Board $150 for each report prepared.
It’s difficult to criticize the Board for simply passing a vendor’s actual charge for fulfilling a request along to a requestor. Indeed, such seems to be expressly authorized by N.J.S.A. 47:1A-5(d). Yet, $150 seems like a lot of money for what appears to be a simple act of having an ADP employee push a key and produce a payroll report. Also, it strikes me that public agencies, many of which have an innate disposition toward suppressing public information, cannot be relied upon to vigorously negotiate for low access fees with the private vendors with which they contract out their services. Indeed, it is likely that some ornery agencies might even secretly work to intentionally put excessive charges in their vendors’ service contracts for the exact purpose of dissuading citizens from gathering critical government records.
This is the first time I’ve encountered this particular problem and am not clear, short of legislation, how to resolve it.