John Paff of New Jersey is this week’s winner of the coveted Sunshine Troublemaker of the Week award.
John is so sunshine-troublicious that he could probably win the STOTW Award once a month.
I’m not sure how long ago John started his sunshine-troublemaking, but I did notice that in 1996, a federal judge ordered over $20,000 worth of restitution to John because–in a flagrant violation of the First Amendment–he was arrested at a post office for passing out political flyers.
To win the STOTW Award, we need a nominee who has been criticized for his or her open government work. As chair of the Open Government Advocacy Council of the New Jersey Libertarian Party, Paff has been so active, so successfully, for so long that it is hard these days to find anyone to attack him.
They just capitulate, although he still has to file lawsuits.
In the last month alone, John has:
- persuaded the town of Sea Girt to disclose more clearly and usefully the subjects they discuss behind closed doors,
- persuaded Somerset County to stop charging illegally high fees for copies of documents,
- launched an effort to persuade Monmouth County to disclose a settlement agreement in a sexual discrimination lawsuit,
- filed a complaint against the Long Hill school board to obtain copies of documents pertaining to possibly inappropriate online comments made by a member of the school board, and
- initiated a campaign to change New Jersey’s open records law so that attorneys for public agencies have an incentive to ensure that the agencies comply with open records requests in good faith.
One town, Sea Girt, capitulated on how to describe its closed-door meetings, according to the Star News:
Council President Mark Clemmensen said the change was the direct result of a letter and threatened
lawsuit sent to the mayor and council by Franklin Township resident John Paff last week.
[Sea Girt representative] Mr. Brennan also asked Mr. Paff to confirm he would not file a lawsuit if the borough makes an effort to address his concerns.
Paff said he wouldn’t go ahead with the lawsuit, pointing out that he wished the council had “communicated with him back in October 2006” when he first raised the issue.
On the issue of public document copying fees, the New Jersey Star-Ledger reports that Somerset County backed down and agreed to refund overcharges of as much as $424,000 in response to a lawsuit filed by Paff.
Some municipalities changed their practices in response to a 2005 court ruling about overcharging.
“In places like Somerset, though, they just decided to keep charging the higher costs until somebody challenged them,” Paff said.
Somerset has been charging $.25 per copy, well above the rates available at local copy shops.
“These are public documents, deeds, mortgages, that people need. You can’t take the books out of the clerk’s office. You’ve got no choice but to use their machines,” said Paff.
The closest we can get to a critic of Mr. Paff’s effort is Somerset County Clerk Brett Radi, who is convinced that it actually costs more money for the government to copy documents than it costs for private copiers to copy documents and that, therefore, it is only right and fair for government agencies to charge more.
Radi believes it costs more for government agencies to copy documents because the agency has to first purchase expensive copying equipment–evidently, in his mind, unlike private copy shops.
John, you have our deep and heartfelt admiration and thanks. May you live long and prosper.