Pennsylvania Office of Open Records

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Pennsylvania Office of Open Records
Leadership: Terry Mutchler
Founded by: Pennsylvania Right to Know Law
Website: http://openrecords.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/community/open_records/4434
Powers:
The office is responsible for conducting appeals, resolving open records disputes and providing statewide training on the open records law.
Logo of the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records

The Pennsylvania Office of Open Records (OOR) is a state run agency in Pennsylvania formed with the goal of enforcing the state's open records law. The director of the office is Terry Mutchler.

Three attorneys work in the office.[1]

Mission statement

"The Mission of the Office of Open Records is to enforce the state’s Right-to-Know law and to serve as a resource for citizens, public officials and members of the media in obtaining public records of their government."[2]

Duties

The duties of the office of open records include:

  • provide information on open records laws to the public
  • issue advisory opinions
  • provide annual training
  • establish an appeals process and hear appeals from open records disputes, including conducting hearing and investigations
  • establish an informal mediation program
  • establish and maintain an internet website that provides information on fees, opinions and decisions, and a list of open records officers in the state
  • conduct a biannual review of fees
  • annually report on the findings and recommendations of the office[3]

Rulings/opinions

As of the end of March 2009, the office had ruled on 71 requests since the new Pennsylvania Right to Know Act went into effect on January 1.[1]

Rulings

Norwegian Township

On March 20, 2009, Norwegian Township, Pennsylvania became the first local government agency to appeal a ruling of OOR. OOR ruled on March 3 that the township is required to provide "employer taxes and contributions" information about what the township pays for its three supervisors. This ruling was in response to a complaint from Charles Zurat, a resident of the township.[1]

In mid-January 2009, Zurat requested salary information from the township. He was given records indicating the supervisors’ gross pay, but not the employer taxes and contributions. Zurat appealed the decision to the OOR on February 2, and OOR ruled that the township had violated the state's law by:

  • Failing to provide public records
  • Failing to submit a proper written denial
  • Failing to support the reasons for its denial with legal citations
  • Failing to satisfy its burden of proving that the requested information is not public.

Stanley Petchulis is the township's "open records officer"--a position each government agency in Pennsylvania is required to fill under the state's public access laws. Petchulis said the basis for the township's appeal of the POOR ruling is, "I just think it should remain confidential. I don’t think that he has the right to know all the inner workings of the township."[1]

York Township

The Board of Commissioners of York Township in York County, Pennsylvania voted on September 8 to appeal a decision of the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records. In a possibly unprecedented move, however, the Board of Commissioners will not foot the bill for the legal appeal; rather, two commissioners will personally pay for the legal fight.[4]

Advisory opinions

  • In February 2009, Franklin Park asked the office for an advisory opinion about whether audio recordings of borough meetings are public records according to the Pennsylvania Right to Know Law, and was told that any such audio recordings are public and copies should be given to those who request them. In response, borough solicitor Robert Max Junker said borough officials are considering whether to develop a policy on how long such recordings must be retained and are also considering putting a stop to their current practice of taping the meetings.[5]

Deliberative exemption

In February 2009, the Northampton Area School Board discussed the district's 2009-2010 budget document at a meeting. A local newspaper, the 'Morning Call, sought unredacted copies of the budget document using the Pennsylvania Right to Know Law. The district did not comply, so the newspaper filed a complaint with the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records.

In a decision issued on March 30, the OOR ruled that the board was within its rights to white out dollar figures from the 2009-10 budget document that it gave the newspaper. A staffperson for the OOR said that the board had the right to protect "pre-decisional deliberative information."[6]

The Pennsylvania Newspaper Association criticized OOR for its decision.[7]

Private organization told to disclose

On April 16, the OOR said that the East Stroudsburg University Foundation (ESUF) had to disclose some information requested by the Pocono Record. The ESUF is a private, non-profit corporation affiliated with East Stroudsburg University, which is a public university. The newspaper said that under Pennsylvania's sunshine law, private corporations that are "performing a governmental function" under contract to a public agency fall under the provisions of the act.[8]

See also

External links

References