A Message from Gavin Rozzi About the Future of OPRAmachine
Dear OPRAmachine Community,
After six great years of building and growing OPRAmachine, today I announce that I will officially step down as leader of the project in the near future.
It's time for me to embark on some new adventures, and much has been accomplished since I first created this platform as a proof of concept in late 2016, before officially launching it in October, 2017. I have selected a successor to continue my vision with the platform and take the wheel going forward. I have great confidence in this individual and their team, but I am going to let them introduce themselves on their own terms when the time is right. But I can tell you that this person is a tenacious and courageous individual who is the right fit to continue the important work we have been doing here.
It has been a wild ride, and an incredible journey. I am so proud of all that we have accomplished together as a community since 2017. I am incredibly grateful to everyone who has supported me. I firmly believe that New Jerseyans are better off as a result of the access to information championed by the OPRAmachine platform.
I want to be clear: the OPRAmachine platform has never been in a stronger position and isn't going away anytime soon. There will be no changes to your account or requests as we aim for a seamless transition.
One lesson in life that I have learned over the years is that you can do anything, but not everything, which has guided me in coming to this decision.
Every startup founder has had to wrestle with the competing goals of taking care of their valued creation and knowing when it's time to let go and move on to something new. For me, there are few things that are more rewarding than building something that has helped thousands of people, and also being able to see that creation outlast you as an individual creator.
As much as I have loved being a part of this community, I have come to realize that it is time for me to return to my roots and pursue my next adventure, and with OPRAmachine being in a very strong position, now is the time to start making this transition, and in the spirit of transparency, I am sharing this news with you all today.
No doubt about it, OPRAmachine is, and has been a pioneer. It has changed the game of access to information in New Jersey like nothing else. No other platform has helped to facilitate the release of as much public information in our state at the scale we have operated at. Thousands of pages of documents and data have been released through the platform, which is the largest public repository of OPRA responses to my knowledge. And we did all of this on a shoestring budget, up against powerful interests and individuals who would preferred to see this work fail. Somehow, it all worked out.
In a state marked by news deserts and floundering legacy media outlets, OPRAmachine was a radical departure from the status quo. We dared to be different. And I have no doubt that this vision will continue in the next six years to come as OPRAmachine is stewarded by new leadership with my full backing and support.
When I founded OPRAmachine, my goal was to create a platform that made it easier for people to access public records, hold their government accountable and speak truth to power by publishing requests and responses as an accountability mechanism. I can't take credit for inventing this category of website, but nobody else has focused on New Jersey specifically with the same breadth and depth we have done here. I also wanted to build something that was good enough that I wanted to use it myself. Over the last six years, we have achieved that goal and so much more.
Under my leadership, I am most proud of several accomplishments that come to mind:
We stood up to clerks and records custodians who wrongfully attempted to obstruct our users' requests in 2018, resulting in a thoughtful decision by the late Monmouth County Assignment Judge Lisa Thornton. While working in academia at the Bloustein School, in 2020, I turned the OPRAmachine dataset into a peer-reviewed academic journal article, showcasing the platform's value for research. We received the 2019 "Excellence in Local News" award from our friends at the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University. With the help of our legal counsel and colleagues from the ACLU of New Jersey, we succesfully fought off subpoenas from a lawyer representing a disgrunted municipal employee seeking to unmask our anonymous users, upholding our commitment to user privacy. I was very proud in 2022 to see that the Government Records Council (GRC) within the state Department of Community Affairs officially acknowledged the validity of the work we are doing with their mention of OPRAmachine in their Handbook for Records Custodians. And this year, we fought off class action lawyers who tried to hold us liable for a municipal clerk's redaction fail, confirming our immunity as an interactive computer service under Section 230 of the Communications Deceny Act.
There have also been numerous news stories that would not have been possible if not for OPRAmachine helping bring them to light by aiding journalists and community activists. There are too many of these to list. Many of the state's top journalists have used OPRAmachine to dig up records relevant for their reporting, and I am very happy to have played a small role in helping them inform New Jerseyans. And many local government officials, school board members and whistleblowers have used the platform to help even the playing field by gaining access to crucial public information.
I still remember the first days of OPRAmachine, which began in my college dorm at Stockton University back in 2017 when I was 20 years old and wrapping up my undergraduate degree there. I thought it would be fun to try and build something like this, and I started out wanting to build something that just covered Ocean County. I pulled a few all nighters to manually build the first iteration of OPRAmachine's statewide database. I never imagined that the platform would take on a life of its own and became a statewide leader on the scale it has.
Over the years I have worn many hats during my tenure as the leader of this platform. I've been a systems administrator, web developer, plaintiff and defendant to name a few. There has always been a fire to put out one way or another. We have received many frivolous legal demands over the years and one of my favorite past times has been calling the bluffs of attorneys who thought they could bully us into backing down with their demand letters. And I'm pleased to report that we never backed down or compromised our values.
There are too many people to acknowledge individually, but please know that I have the utmost gratitude for the contributions of all of the friends and supporters of the platform. I have made many new friends and connections through OPRAmachine. It has been the honor of my life to serve as the leader of this incredible platform and I can't wait to see where it goes in the future.
As for me? I'm not going anywhere, and I don't want this announcement to be read to suggest that anything is wrong, either with me or OPRAmachine. This decision has been in the works for a while and both myself and the Machine are quite alright. I'm excited to take on new challenges and I'm still going to advocate for my principles.
I'll still be the platform's biggest champion and will do everything in my power to ensure the new team continues OPRAmachine's vision and mission. I'm staying right here in New Jersey. I'll probably be down at the League of Municipalities conference in Atlantic City next month and I ran into a few users of the platform at the Under One Roof Conference hosted by the Housing & Community Development Network of New Jersey this week.
I've also recently founded a new consulting firm, 39 North Labs LLC where I am working on some interesting projects for my clients, including litigation support and expert witness testimony.
I'll have more to share about my future plans at a later date. You'll probably be seeing me in a different capacity soon enough.