TRENTON – The state Supreme Court has ruled that the N.J. League of Municipalities is subject to the state’s Open Public Records Act.
The state’s high court this morning upheld an appeal by the Fair Share Housing Center, which had sued the League in connection with the League’s opposition to Council on Affordable Housing rules.
“The League of Municipalities is a “public agency” under the Open Public Records Act and must provide access to “government record[s]” that are not subject to an exemption,” the court stated in its ruling.
The League had argued that adoption of COAH’s so-called “third round’’ rules would lead to substantial property tax burdens.
Fair Share Housing, a non-profit, public interest group that acts as an advocate for affordable housing policies, claimed the League was required under OPRA to produce any documents or studies it had to support that assertion.
The court stated that even though the League was not formed by statute, but rather by action of its member municipalities as a non-profit association, it still has to comply with OPRA.
While towns in New Jersey are not required to join the League, all of the state’s municipalities are members.
The court ruled: “In passing OPRA, the Legislature declared that it is the State’s public policy that “government records shall be readily accessible for inspection, copying, or examination by the citizens of this State, with certain exceptions, for the protection of the public interest.”
“Those who enacted OPRA understood that knowledge is power in a democracy, and that without access to information contained in records maintained by public agencies citizens cannot monitor the operation of our government or hold public officials accountable for their actions.”
Public agency definition
“This case turns on the meaning of ‘public agency,’” the court ruling stated.
It stated that the law is broadly written to include a wide variety of agencies. “That plain language places the League squarely within the term ‘public agency,’” the court ruled.
In addition, the court stated, “Through the pooling of financial contributions and personnel, the League – in a more efficient and cost-effective way – can do for all municipalities what no one municipality can do for itself. Moreover, the League is controlled by elected or appointed officials from the very municipalities it represents. Thus, it is clear that the League is an ‘instrumentality’ of a ‘combination of political subdivisions.’ This simple plain-language approach leads to the conclusion that the League is a ‘public agency.’”
In unanimously reversing the lower court ruling, the Supreme Court remanded the case back to the trial court for further proceedings.