Home > Uncategorized > NJ Democrats Pushing Legislation To Sue Citizens For “Interfering With Government Operations” For Requesting Public Records

NJ Democrats Pushing Legislation To Sue Citizens For “Interfering With Government Operations” For Requesting Public Records

Bill Would Gut Open Public Records Act

Current Law Already Routinely Abused To Keep Documents Secret



I admit that I’ve been “interfering with government operations” for decades now.

The inteference began in 1985 as a government employee at DEP, fighting from the inside as a guerrilla bureaucrat for the public interests against incompetent, corrupt, and improperly motivated careerist colleagues. It expanded as a whistleblower forced out of DEP in 1995 (weeks before vesting in the pension system) for blowing the whistle on lies about and suppression of science on the risks of toxic mercury, and continued until the present as an advocate and activist.

So, I have some skin in this game and frankly am appalled – but not surprised – by efforts by NJ Democrats to gut the State’s Open Public Records Act (OPRA).

I have reached out to NJ reporters hundreds of times over those decades to point out the specific abuses of the OPRA law by DEP bureaucrats seeking to coverup bad policy or suppress science. Not once have they ever written a news report about any of that.

I’ve worked with former Senator Weinberg on OPRA reforms to close loopholes and correct judicial opinions that have severely narrowed the scope and effectiveness of OPRA, but those efforts went nowhere. Again, NJ media provided very little support and coverage.

So, I have a bit of a problem with the NJ Press Association’s sudden wakeup and strong opposition to the rollback of OPRA – had they done their jobs over the years and defended and supported OPRA, there would be far less chance for legislators to think they could get away with this bullshit rollback.

Good editorial today by my former colleague Dena Mottolla in NJ Spotlight that correctly frames the issue.

Below is my letter to Legislators that provides a few stunning examples of what I’ve disclosed under OPRA:

———- Original Message ———-

From: Bill WOLFE <b>

To: “sensarlo@njleg.org” <sensarlo@njleg.org>, sengreenstein <sengreenstein@njleg.org>, senbsmith <SenBSmith@njleg.org>, “asmScharfenberger@njleg.org” <asmScharfenberger@njleg.org>, “senmckeon@njleg.org” <senmckeon@njleg.org>

Cc: “tmoran@starledger.com” <tmoran@starledger.com>, “O’Neill, James” <ONeillJ@northjersey.com>, “wparry@ap.org” <wparry@ap.org>, “fkummer@inquirer.com” <fkummer@inquirer.com>, “ferencem@njspotlightnews.org” <ferencem@njspotlightnews.org>, “jonhurdle@gmail.com” <jonhurdle@gmail.com>, “shawn.latourette@dep.nj.gov” <shawn.latourette@dep.nj.gov>

Date: 05/13/2024 7:50 AM EDT

Subject: OPRA Bill – Just Say NO!

Dear Legislators:

According to your OPRA bill, for decades, I have been “interfering with government operations”.

I’ve been “interfering” by filing hundreds of OPRA requests, by twice successfully suing DEP for denying my OPRA requests, and by publicly distributing the results of OPRA responses that reveal everything from: 1) DEP Gag Orders issued to scientists to suppress scientific research on chromium and “forever chemicals”, 2) to memoranda authorizing building schools on radioactive and hazardous toxic waste sites, 3) to knowing failure to protect toddlers from toxic mercury they knew was present in a day care center.

If you find the latter claim incredible, read this NY Times story:

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection knew in 1994 that a building that later housed a Gloucester County day care center was so dangerous that state inspectors were instructed to use respirators when entering the building, according to an internal memo obtained by The New York Times yesterday.

But the site remained contaminated, and as far as the department knew, unoccupied, until inspectors visited it in April and found that Kiddie Kollege, a day care center serving children as young as 8 months old, was operating in the building. Yet the center, which is in Franklin Township, was allowed to remain open for more than three months, until state environmental investigators determined in late July that the site was still contaminated. […]

The internal memo, dated Oct. 12, 1994, said “Level C at a minimum is required for entry into the building,” meaning respirators were required, said Bill Wolfe, a former department employee who is the director of New Jersey Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a watchdog group that provided a copy of the memo.

I spent 13 years at DEP and am fully aware of the data, science, and policy documents and deliberations that DEP generates and restricts from public knowledge.

Over those decades, DEP has denied scores of my OPRA requests, by abusing various loopholes in OPRA or invoking judicial case law that has severely narrowed the scope of OPRA.

DEP routinely denies my OPRA requests as “overly broad”; “deliberative privilege” and requiring the “conduct of research”.

It is rare to be provided internal emails on virtually anything. Virtually everything is classified “deliberative”, much in the same way that tobacco and chemical industry scientists stamped their research as “attorney client communication” to keep their science and professional opinions secret.

The current law and agency implementation of OPRA are an abuse of the public and principles of democratic government, transparency, and accountability  – the law must be expanded, not rolled back.

Bill Wolfe

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