I often disagree with Linda Jagiela’s reporting in the Central Record. But I share some of her concerns about the release of un-redacted personal information from public records. TTJ has discussed this issue in Posts about Tabernacle’s dissolution of the Fire District. The following is my response to her article that I submitted to the Central Record for publication.
I share some of the concerns raised in Linda Jagiela’s May 28 Central Record article about the release of personal information provided in response to OPRA requests for 911 calls. Generally speaking, personal information such as identity and past medical history of the person needing emergency care should not be public information. Neither should the specific reason for the call which, as Ms. Jagiela points out, could include drug overdose, suicide, or other condition which could stigmatize the person needing help.
Attorneys often have different or conflicting opinions on what should be redacted. For example, in Tabernacle, Township Attorney Peter Lange released a resident’s personal check without redacting personal information such as the person’s name and bank account number. Yet, he recently instructed the Township Clerk to redact information that was clearly not personal. I have also seen 911 reports where personal information was redacted.
Perhaps County counsel should reconsider its opinion regarding personal information on 911 reports. This is not to say that all information about these calls should be protected. Public awareness and discussion of that information is necessary for the effective funding and management of emergency services.
Notwithstanding my agreement with her concerns regarding 911 calls, I still find Ms. Jagiela’s reporting on other aspects of OPRA to be uninformed and unhelpful. The OPRA statute (there’s only one, not multiple as she reports), like all statutes, is clarified as disputes get resolved by courts. That’s the way our system of government works. The legislature and executive pass laws and the judiciary applies or interprets them. The vast majority of OPRA requests are routinely handled without going to court. The vast majority of judicial decisions, including OPRA decisions, are not overturned. In my experience, public agencies don’t want to release documents because they might show poor management or because there are political reasons to hide them. The OPRA law is not as unclear as Ms. Jagiela suggests.