ACLU-NJ Fights for Plans to Raze Housing Complex

Affiliate: ACLU of New Jersey
September 15, 2009 12:00 am

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ACLU-NJ Fights for Access to Plans to Raze Public Complex Plainfield may be parsing words to avoid releasing details of widely known proposal


NEWARK, NJ – The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey’s Open Governance Project appealed to the New Jersey Government Records Council (GRC) today on behalf of a Plainfield resident unlawfully denied information about a proposal to raze a Plainfield public housing complex.

“The Housing Authority presented plans publicly that were even covered in the news – they didn’t just vanish,” said Robert F. Edwards, the Plainfield resident who requested the proposal. “I have no doubt these records exist, but the Housing Authority just doesn’t want the public to have them.”

Edwards twice requested a Plainfield Housing Authority proposal presented at a July 2008 meeting of the Plainfield Planning Board to raze 120 units from the city’s Elmwood Gardens public housing complex. The Housing Authority claimed it had not given the Planning Board a proposal, despite a Courier News article after the meeting detailing plans, sketches and documents related to replacing the existing units with townhouses.

The ACLU-NJ suspects the Housing Authority parsed the word “proposal” (which was the term Edwards used in his request for documents) to improperly deny Edwards’s request. Despite differences in terminology, Edwards’s request noted the Planning Board meeting, the subject matter and the newspaper article, clearly in reference to plans to raze the complex.

On August 20, the ACLU-NJ filed a third request, which the Housing Authority has ignored in violation of the Open Public Records Act’s requirement that a government agency respond within seven business days.

“Government agencies cannot ignore their responsibilities under the law by parsing words or claiming that records widely known to be real do not exist,” Bobby Conner said, staff attorney for the Open Governance Project. “If it looks like the same proposal and acts like the same proposal, it is the same proposal, no matter what the Housing Authority internally calls it.”

The ACLU also requested fines be imposed on the Custodian of Records of Housing Authority if shown to have been misleading the GRC and Edwards to believe that no records exist.

The complaint is captioned Robert F. Edwards v. Plainfield Housing Authority and is pending before the Government Records Council.

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