Agencies Should Provide Evidence to the OOR

Office of Open Records LogoThe Commonwealth Court has consistently frowned on agencies trying to submit new evidence (i.e., evidence not provided to the Office of Open Records) during a Right-to-Know Law appeal.

As a general rule, Courts of Common Pleas have been more accepting of that practice. However, Courts of Common Pleas are not required to accept such evidence. In one recent case (OOR Dkt. No.: AP 2019-1228), Judge Richard K. Renn of York County included some commentary about the practice in his order.

Judge Renn wrote: “[W]e have noticed a disturbing trend in recent cases involving [York] County that the County submits additional materials to this Court for consideration during the review de novo process which it did not make available to the OOR. The Commonwealth Court recently commented on this practice, noting that ‘[l]ack of evidence, when the parties and participants had a full opportunity to submit evidence to the fact-finder, is not a valid reason for supplementing the record.’ Mission Pa., LLC v. McKelvey, 212 A.3d 119 (Pa. 2019).”

After further quoting from McKelvey, Judge Renn continued: “Indeed, one might conclude that the County was ‘sandbagging’ the OOR appeal process since no explanation was given for the recent submission of the [new evidence]. … We are not prepared at this time to draw that conclusion in the context of this case.”

I think Judge Renn’s point is crystal clear (and 100 percent correct): Absent some extremely unusual circumstance, agencies should submit all of the evidence they have in a RTKL case while that case is being heard by the Office of Open Records. In fact, the OOR regularly extends submission deadlines (and sometimes ask requesters to grant an extension of time to consider the case) to ensure that the record is fully developed before a final determination is issued.

Judge Renn’s complete order is here.

The Commonwealth Court decision in Mission Pa., LLC v. McKelvey is here.

Speaking to the County Commissioners Association

Yesterday in Hershey, I spoke to members of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania at their Newly Elected Officials Workshop & Fall Conference.

Not surprisingly, I focused on Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law. More specifically, I encouraged counties (the same would apply to other agencies) to post their most commonly requested records online. For example:

We also discussed effective ways to use social media and how the RTKL applies to social media, as well as some common-sense ways to reduce the burden of the RTKL on agency employees.

Many thanks to CCAP for the invitation. I appreciate the chance to speak to county commissioners from across Pennsylvania.

Here’s the PowerPoint presentation I used:

County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania – Nov. 25, 2019 (PPTX)
County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania – Nov. 25, 2019 (PDF)

If you’re interested in training about the Right-to-Know Law and/or the Sunshine Act (for agencies or requesters), please let us know.

Article for Pennsylvania County News

The County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania recently asked me to contribute an article to the Fall 2019 issue of Pennsylvania County News, which I was happy to do.

Here’s the complete text of that article.

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Balancing the public’s right to know with confidentiality laws and privacy interests

Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law (RTKL) presumes that all government records are available to the public – but it also recognizes that there are times records must be shielded to comply with confidentiality laws, to respect various privileges, and to protect legitimate privacy interests.

In our training sessions, the Office of Open Records (OOR) often points out that the RTKL is not itself a confidentiality law. In other words, the RTKL does not require agencies to withhold any records. Instead, it allows agencies to withhold records when certain conditions apply. (For example, records can be withheld if their disclosure would endanger public safety, reveal police notes about an investigation, or identify an individual receiving social services.)

But there are laws which require confidentiality, and those laws must be followed.
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Speaking to Students at the University of Pittsburgh

Late yesterday, I visited the University of Pittsburgh to speak to Prof. Doug Swanson’s journalism class about Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law.

It was a great discussion, and I appreciate the invitation very much.

Here’s the PowerPoint presentation I used:

University of Pittsburgh – Prof. Doug Swanson – Oct. 22, 2019 (PPTX)
University of Pittsburgh – Prof. Doug Swanson – Oct. 22, 2019 (PDF)

If you’re a professor in Pennsylvania and you’d like me to speak to your class, let me know and I’ll do my best to make it happen.

Speaking to Students at Lock Haven University

Earlier today, I visited Lock Haven University to speak to Dr. Sharon Stringer’s journalism class about Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law.

It was a great discussion, and I appreciate the invitation very much.

Here’s the PowerPoint presentation I used:

Lock Haven University – Dr. Sharon Stringer – Oct. 22, 2019 (PPTX)
Lock Haven University – Dr. Sharon Stringer – Oct. 22, 2019 (PDF)

If you’re a professor in Pennsylvania and you’d like me to speak to your class, let me know and I’ll do my best to make it happen.

Speaking to Students at Marywood University

Earlier today, I visited Marywood University to speak to the Wood Word staff about Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law.

It was a great discussion, and I appreciate the invitation by Dr. Lindsey Wotanis very much.

Here’s the PowerPoint presentation I used:

Marywood University – Wood Word / Dr. Lindsey Wotanis – Oct. 18, 2019 (PPTX)
Marywood University – Wood Word / Dr. Lindsey Wotanis – Oct. 18, 2019 (PDF)

If you’re a professor in Pennsylvania and you’d like me to speak to your class, let me know and I’ll do my best to make it happen.

Presentation at the Tyrone Daily Herald

Earlier this afternoon at the office of the Tyrone Daily Herald, I led a training session about Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law.

Many thanks to the Daily Herald for allowing me to visit. I appreciate it very much.

Here’s the PowerPoint presentation I used:

Tyrone Daily Herald – Oct. 17, 2019 (PPTX)
Tyrone Daily Herald – Oct. 17, 2019 (PDF)

If you’re interested in training about the Right-to-Know Law and/or the Sunshine Act (for agencies or requesters), please let us know.