As the Hoboken Corporation Counsel, I feel obligated to respond to the recent statements made by Councilwoman Elizabeth Mason regarding her lawsuits against the City. Her comments follow her most recent courtroom defeat, in which a respected appellate court found that her requests for public records were vague, inappropriate “fishing expeditions,” making it impossible for the City to properly respond.
First, I want to make clear that I respect the Councilwoman and agree with her that open access to government is essential for a healthy democracy. I fundamentally disagree with her, however, with respect to the methods she uses to promote her agenda. The City receives well over 1,000 requests for government records under the Open Public Records Act (“OPRA”) yearly. Mason has filed hundreds herself, some incredible in size and scope.
One such request being litigated would require approximately 70,000 separate documents from the City construction office, and would have taken months to fulfill. When the City objects, she wrongly claims we are being “uncooperative” when she is being unreasonable, as the courts have agreed.
The City works diligently to fulfill every OPRA request, and probably does so successfully 99 percent of the time. The City now even has an employee just to respond to requests more efficiently.
Mason alone has sought and received countless thousands of pages of City documents via OPRA. Occasionally, a dispute arises regarding an OPRA request, and although the City is not perfect, the problem is usually that the request is impossibly vague, overbroad, or otherwise legally flawed.
Normally, these problems are amicably resolved, or at worst decided by the Government Records Council (“GRC”), an independent State body created to resolve records disputes quickly, cheaply and fairly. However, whenever Mason disagrees with the City’s response, she rushes to file a lawsuit in Superior Court, the most expensive, inefficient and wasteful way to resolve disputes. It is her choice – not the City’s – to engage in this sort of litigation.
Over the past few years, Mason has filed seven separate OPRA-related lawsuits against the City, and the indisputable fact is that her litigation record is atrocious. The truth is that she has failed in five of seven cases at the trial level, and also lost three separate appeals, with others pending. One could fairly describe her as the New York Knicks of plaintiffs, if it was a laughing matter, but it is not.
Successfully defending the City in these lawsuits has cost taxpayers in the hundreds of thousands of dollars already, with no end in sight. Sadly, they could have been fairly resolved at the GRC at minimal cost.
Although it may disappoint the conspiracy theorists, the truth is that no one is intentionally withholding any records, as countless judges have told Councilwoman Mason. It is my hope that she will finally accept this fact, recognize her fiduciary duty to the City as an elected official and place her talents and energies towards a more productive course of action.
The City is committed to working with her, and any other citizen, to resolve OPRA disputes in a more appropriate and cost-effective manner.
Very truly yours,
Hoboken Corporation Counsel