Rozzi v. Lacey BOE Victory: GRC Rules $85 Fee for Public Records “Unreasonable and Unwarranted”

The New Jersey Government Records Council (GRC) on Tuesday has ordered the Lacey Township Board of Education to refund an $85 special service fee they charged for public records in response to a 2015 request made under the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) that sought copies of checks submitted by the school board attorney to purchase health benefits through the school district.

$85 Charge For Public Documents “Unwarranted and Unreasonable,” GRC Rules

It took me nearly two years of waiting for the wheels of justice to turn, but I am very pleased to announce that I have prevailed in my case against the Lacey Township Board of Education before the New Jersey Government Records Council.

From the GRC’s website

I filed my pro se complaint in the summer of 2015 following the school board’s imposition of an $85 special service fee in order for me to obtain copies of checks submitted by then-school board attorney Arthur Stein, a contracted professional, who was using the checks to obtain health benefits through the school district.

Following my request for the copies of the checks, then-Lacey BOE Business Administrator Jim Savage claimed that I would have to pay an $85 special service fee in addition to the statutory 5 cents per page copy fee if I wanted to obtain copies of the checks.

It became apparent to me at the time that the imposition of the fee was without basis in law, and rather, an attempt to chill my right to access to public records by imposing the fee, presumably in the hope that I would go away and stop filing public records requests.

That wasn’t going to happen.

Following the imposition of the fee, open government activist Harry Scheeler, who has litigated numerous OPRA cases, contacted the entire school board and their attorney on my behalf and advised them to refund the fee, but his pleas fell on deaf ears.  Instead, the school board chose to spend thousands of dollars worth of legal fees to fight my complaint, all for nothing.

“The special service charge is unreasonable and unwarranted,” the council ruled at their January 31st, 2017 meeting. “The custodian must therefore refund the Complainant’s $85.19 payment and provide certified confirmation of compliance to the GRC.”

Two Strikes For The Lacey School Board

My complaint is not the first in which the school board’s response to Open Public Records Act requests has drawn scrutiny. We previously reported on the complaint filed by one of the school board’s own members, Regina Discenza. Her complaint currently awaits adjudication.

I make use of both state and federal open records laws in order to bring to light many of the stories here on Ocean County Politics. When records custodians play games with those who seek public records (or play favorites with who they give documents to), they only end up hurting the very public they are supposed to serve.

I encourage anybody that is denied access to public records not to give up. File your complaint with the GRC or take it to Superior Court – don’t let them get away with it.

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Gavin Rozzi

Gavin Rozzi

Gavin Rozzi is the editor of Ocean County Politics and a lifelong Ocean County resident, residing in Lacey Township. Gavin's work centers on the intersection of money and politics in Ocean County, with a focus on public corruption. He can be reached via email at editor@politicsoc.com or via phone at (848)-667-0840 or on encrypted phone / text app Signal.

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  • John

    Did they finally give you what you wanted? What were your findings?

  • Mercy Otis Warren

    Congratulations on this victory, but what is the incentive for them to refrain from this behavior in the future? Did they have to pay your attorney fees? And even if they did, it would not be them, but rather the tax payers and all because they do not want any light shined on their scam. And 2 years? Are you kidding me? This is not even a court. I am afraid the system is broken and therefore we must rely on the good will of people like Savage and Stein. That is a bet you will lose every time.

    • There were no legal fees on my end since I drafted the complaint and certification all by myself. The OPRA statute provides a so-called “fee shifting provision” where if one prevails in an OPRA action, they are entitled to their legal fees. If I needed an attorney for this case, the school board would have had to pay those up, too. Savage and Stein concocted the fees to try and stop me from looking into the health benefit scheme. Why should a contracted professional get health benefits through the school district? Following that logic, if you hired an attorney to represent you, do you put them on your family’s healthcare plan, too? They wanted to keep that on the down low, so they thought they could make me go away by scaring me with their “special service fee.” The problem is we have John Parker’s stooges running the show at the school board, I can name a few Lacey BOE members that just show up and vote yes without thinking, and that’s what has gotten us great things like the solar panel fiasco. The asleep at the wheel board members who show up (and some of them can’t even be bothered to regularly attend meetings), vote yes on everything and recite the tired old line that “it’s for the children” – that isn’t going to cut it – we need engaged board members that are willing to provide oversight and make tough choices. Unfortunately, some see it as a stepping stone to running for town council and the only one who suffer are the taxpayers. The fact that the GRC takes over two years to get a final ruling is also sad, but it’s also partially because the state legislature has not given the GRC or OPRA any real teeth when it comes to penalties for violations, which I think needs to change. We need laws and litigation to force these officials to be transparent, because as you said, we cannot bet on their good will. The majority of places that I have filed OPRA requests with have actually been quite good in getting back to me – but if and when they (or any other public entity) try and violate my rights again I won’t hesitate to take it to court.

      • Mercy Otis Warren

        You are exactly right. Stein wants the healthcare for two reasons: A. It is a plan so good that it is unavailable to the general public and B. it saves him between $30,000 and $50,000.00 a year. It is complete BS, but I would expect nothing less from the empty suits on the board and the low life lawyers that represent them. I fully support your efforts to shine light on this malfeasance and if I ever win the lottery, I’d make sure you could keep doing this work for a long time to come. Shucks, if I did not have to feed, clothes, house and educate my 19 kids (which I am specifically having to demographically outvote people like Heroin Zombie (ha)), I would join you tomorrow. Best, as always.

  • Rex On the Green

    Just an observation, not a big deal really. There is another online paper that picked this article up. My observation is, he picks up this little tidbit, however not a word about the massive investigation that has adorned the front pages of just about every local and state newspaper and online spots recently, That would be the ongoing investigation of Mr Gilmore , which is a Ocean County matter. So he follows, no offense, a story about $85.00. buy does not follow a multi million dollar tax and grand jury investigation about the biggest political name in Ocean County?

    • Mercy Otis Warren

      If you scroll down the homepage (just slightly) you will see multiple articles on the matter you are referencing. I am a little confused as to how you missed it.

      • guest

        I think the poster is talking about a competitors website not this one.

        • Yes, that’s my psychotic cyberstalker from Jackson, Crazy Phil Stilton, editor of the Fake News Network. He’s a thin-skinned keyboard warrior that backs down and runs away when confronted in person like the coward he is. Phil is a failed school board candidate, wannabe councilman and all around a disturbed individual with severe anger issues, and I have evidence and witnesses that substantiate every one of those claims. He spends his days writing fluff pieces for Joe Rullo and Mike Reina in the hopes of getting campaign advertisements. He threatened me over the summer that if I didn’t censor Angela Santoriello’s comments, that he would write bad articles about me and slander me. I don’t respond to threats or blackmail. Not even the Republicans he is trying to kiss up to take him seriously since his blog doesn’t have one scintilla of credibility, all he can do is fill it with Google ads since he is struggling to get by financially. I really don’t like judging people based on their looks, but let’s be honest: if you looked like him, you would probably hate yourself and take it out on others too. The guy poses for pictures wearing GOP campaign gear, but thinks he has the right to tell other people how to run their news websites. He’s the laughingstock of Jackson and Ocean County’s hypocrite in chief. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/b14efabfaff12f8565124ab18e5145903c77652e56c07c7fb322fc3605c9258f.jpg

          • Trump grabbem by da pussyTrump

            Now that was funny
            Hey Mercy how do you like the fraudster Trump taking away other ppls Liberties?
            Can you point me in the direction in your copy of the Constitution where it talks about Roe V Wade or where corps are ppl
            Perhaps we can dig up Scalia and his dictionary and see what militia means and no its not any red neck can buy an ar15
            yeeeeeeeeeeeeeha
            I thought Republicon Repukes wanted less Govt

          • Mercy Otis Warren

            Good morning Heroin Zombie. I very much dislike Trump’s proclivity toward authoritarianism and am more than a bit dismayed by General Flynn’s bellicose saber rattling against Iran. In my opinion that was one of Obama’s great accomplishments during his Presidency — keeping us out of a hot war with Syria and Iran. Though he did allow the CIA to run amok by supplying ISIS with weapons through our very good allies: Turkey and Saudi Arabia. This actually brings us to a very important point with respect to Trump. If he were so concerned about dangerous refugees coming into this country from the middle east, one would think that he would stop the activity causing the refugee crisis; that is the civil war in Syria — which would end tomorrow if the US ceased trying to overthrow Israel’s enemies. But low and behold the military is being promised more money by Trump (even though they lost 6 trillion dollars) and Goldman Sachs is everywhere in his administration. The untouchables in the USA are the military industrial complex and the banking cartels headed by the federal reserve. Trump will not upset that cart and the people in control will remain in control. Happy Thursday!

        • Mercy Otis Warren

          Ah, upon a closer read, it appears you are right. My apologies to the King on the Green.

  • Trump is a 25mil Fraud

    Rumor has it Bestsy Devos will be coming to Monmouth and Ocean Counties to hand out vouchers to kids from Lakewood Asbury Park and Neptune since enrollment has dropped here at Heroin High the BOE can send a few bus