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Glen Rock Sued over denying OPRA request

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 Glen Rock resident Timothy Larkin claims he was “banned” from participating in a public dialogue on Councilman Skip Huisking’s Facebook page, which he called an “official” page of Huisking’s, where the councilman conducts official government business.  

On April 10, Larkin filed a lawsuit against Glen Rock, and Borough Clerk Jackie Scalia, for denying an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request for access to the list of Facebook accounts blocked or removed by Glen Rock mayor Bruce Packer and all members of the Borough Council. The suit is focusing on the public Facebook pages maintained by the mayor and council members, and not their personal Facebook pages.

The case will be heard by Judge Bonnie J. Mizdol in Room 426 of the Bergen County Courthouse in Hackensack on June 15, beginning at 10 a.m.

Mr. Larkin’s attorney, CJ Griffin, argues that the denial by Scalia to provide the list of blocked Facebook users regulations because these accounts in question are used by the mayor and council to conduct official government business and are therefore subject to access by the public through OPRA.  OPRA’s definition of a government record is any government paper, written or printed, or information stored or maintained electronically by the governing body. 

In refusing Larkin’s request, Ms. Scalia said, “The Borough does not make, maintain or keep on file any records relating to the Facebook Pages of elected officials.”  She said,  “the official Glen Rock page actively maintained by the Borough is one named “Borough of Glen Rock @GlenRockNJ.’’ 

Anthony  Suarez, the borough attorney for Glen Rock, argued that these Facebook pages in question have been set up by the individual council members on their own, and that no taxpayer money has been spent, nor any government used to maintain these pages or curate their content.

Mr Huisking said he blocked Mr. Larkin “only after the account holder of the Timothy Larkin’s Facebook profile refused to verify that he was indeed Timothy Larkin after three separate requests.” This verification was to ensure that it was truly the Timothy Larkin that came to council meetings and not a “troll account” since there was no profile picture to visually verify the identification. 

According to the mayor and council, each Facebook page is used as a way of communicating with the public about topics the officials believe feel are important for the borough residents to know. That is different, they argue, than using the pages in question to conduct official business. None of the Facebook pages are marked as “official,” and each asks residents to email the council member or come to a council meeting to be heard.  Mr. Huisking’s page states: “This page is to communicate with the community. With over 35 GR pages – it’s more productive. Business will not be conducted here. Come to public meetings”

GRNT has reached out to Mr. Larkin for a comment, but has not yet received one.  

Neither Mr. Huisking’s Facebook page, nor those of the mayor and other council members as have not been verified. What does that mean? What is a verified Page or profile?

•Some Pages and profiles have been verified by Facebook to let people know that they’re authentic:

•If you see a blue badge   on a Page or profile, it means that Facebook confirmed that this is the authentic Page or profile for this public figure, media company or brand. Keep in mind that not all public figures, celebrities and brands on Facebook have blue badges.

•If you see a gray badge   on a Page, it means that Facebook confirmed that this is an authentic Page for this business or organization.

Note: It’s not possible to purchase either type of verified badge.

According to OPRA, a “public agency has a responsibility and obligation to safeguard from public access a citizen’s personal information with which it has been intruded when disclosure thereof would violate the citizen’s reasonable expectation of privacy…. NJSA 47:1A-1.

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