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New Jersey town seeks improvements to open government amendments

September 25, 2013

The West Milford township in northern New Jersey recently reviewed open and transparent government amendments to the state's Open Public Records and Open Public Meetings acts, which the town representatives opposed. However, a recent campaign from the local officials has targeted the proposed amendments again, looking to alter certain provisions to make the bills fairer for the public.

One of the proposals would require public offices to reimburse the winners of legal cases regarding OPRA violations, but does not provide public bodies the right to claim the same reimbursements if they win. Officials from West Milford believe the amendment should work both ways.

"If you win at any level to any extent, you are entitled to legal fees. Not legal fees at the hourly rates that municipal attorneys charge. They're enhanced fees because the law says, 'Well, you took a risk to take the case,'" said Township Attorney Fred Semrau, according to NorthJersey.com. "In an Open Public Meetings Act challenge the court could award fees, but they don't have to."

Embracing the tenets of transparency and open government require town, county and city legislators to go all the way with their related efforts and ensure that everyone receives fair treatment under the law, whether a member of the government or a concerned citizen.