NJSEA Can’t Hide Contracts

A Superior Court judge in New Jersey recently ordered the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority to disclose contract information from its deals with promoters since 2007.

The decision follows a more than yearlong court battle between Newark’s Star-Ledger and the NJSEA. The paper filed suit claiming the authority had violated the Open Public Records Act when it refused to release contracts for the state-owned Izod Center.

According to the Star-Ledger, the documents were requested to determine how the NJSEA was spending money at the Meadowlands venue, and whether other venues in the state were being undercut at taxpayers’ expense.

“Weighing the public’s interest in the right to know, against the public interest in confidentiality of the contracts, the court finds the public’s right to know is paramount,” Superior Court Judge Claude Coleman reportedly said in court Oct. 28.

The Authority consistently claimed releasing the contracts would place it at a competitive disadvantage with other venues in the region, including the nearby Prudential Center, Madison Square Garden and the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in New York.

Judge Coleman disagreed, asserting “there is a strong public interest in disclosure of the NJSEA contracts,” and that many promoters deposed during the case claimed they had no expectations of confidentiality when they signed contracts with public venues.

Attorneys for the Authority are apparently mulling whether to appeal the decision.

“NJSEA attorneys believe that the language of the OPRA stature is clear in providing for a necessary exemption and protection to avoid a competitive disadvantage in the conduct of business,” Authority chair Carl Goldberg told the Star-Ledger. “We will review the decision and consider the option of an appeal. A consequence of this decision is that no other competing venue in the metropolitan region will be so encumbered.”

The NJSEA has faced money troubles for some time. The agency was reported to hold an $830 million debt along with a $38 million budget deficit earlier this year.