NEWS RELEASE: Office of Open Records Applauds New Law on Meeting Agendas

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE July 1, 2021  

Office of Open Records Applauds New Law on Meeting Agendas

HARRISBURG – Yesterday, the Governor signed SB554, sponsored by Senator Pat Stefano, which amends the Sunshine Act, or “Open Meetings Law,” to require state government agencies, local municipalities, and school districts to post an agenda online no later than 24 hours before the start of a public meeting.  

“The opportunity to review an agenda before a public meeting is a positive step towards increasing government accountability and citizen participation,” Office of Open Records Executive Director Liz Wagenseller said. “Access to timely and relevant information is crucial to promoting open and knowledgeable dialogue between citizens and government officials, and we look forward to the continued work of the legislature to improve government responsiveness and transparency.” 

Under the Right-to-Know Law, the OOR is required to offer training on the Sunshine Act.  The OOR will conduct a webinar on the Sunshine Act, including the newly enacted SB554, on July 14, 2021 at 10:00 a.m.  The webinar is free and can be accessed at www.openrecords.pa.gov.  

Media Contact: Liz Wagenseller, Executive Director, ewagensell@pa.gov  

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Presentation to PA State Association of Boroughs

Last week, I enjoyed presenting about the RTKL during the Pennsylvania State Association of Boroughs‘ conference. PSAB set up a great virtual format. I pre-recorded my presentation at a studio; that recording was played live for conference attendees while I answered questions in the chat that ran along the side of the video. An effective way for a professional looking presentation without sacrificing the ability to engage. (Though being forced to watch myself on camera made me realize how overdue I was for a hair cut).

You can download the PowerPoint below; I included some updates regarding recent court cases of interest and pending legislation.

Regulations have left the building.

The OOR is thrilled to announce that earlier this week, it took its first formal step in the regulation promulgation process. Regulations will provide greater clarity of the requirements of both the agencies and the requestors during the RTKL appeal process. The Office of the Budget received the proposed regulations and will commence their review; eventually, there will be a period for public comment. Read all about it here.

Review of RTKL Request Webpages

Holding government accountable via record access is not possible if the public is not well informed about how to request such information. 

The OOR is conducting a review of how agencies post Right-to-Know Law (RTKL) information on their websites. Specifically, the review will look at how an agency provides instructions to request information by reviewing a sampling of webpages of Commonwealth and local agencies including school districts, municipalities, police departments, State System universities, community colleges, and authorities.

The review will also consider clarity and accuracy of language, as well as ease of locating how to request information. This includes noting any out-of-date information about how COVID mitigations are affecting RTKL requests.

Have you come across an agency whose RTKL webpage is confusing or difficult to locate? Or conversely, do you have a webpage that you could cite as a good example? If so, please email ra-dcoorfile@pa.gov by May 7.

We will publish our final report by early summer.

OOR’s 2020 Annual Report

The 2020 Annual Report is now posted.

Some highlights:

  • 2020 ranks as the second-busiest year ever for the OOR, with 2,764 appeals filed.
  • Breakdown of who filed appeals in 2020:
    • 43% citizens
    • 37% companies
    • 11% inmates
    • 5% media
    • 2% government officials
    • 1% lawmakers
  • 547 appeals involving state agencies; Department of Corrections tops the list at 115 appeals filed.
  • Significant increases in the number of appeals filed involving the Department of Health, State Police, Department of Human Services, and Department of Community and Economic Development.
  • 90 mediations and 70 training sessions conducted by the OOR.

Greetings from Liz Wagenseller, Executive Director

Hello, blog readers and fellow supporters of government transparency and accountability, As the newly appointed Executive Director I am honored to lead such a vital office in Pennsylvania.

We should be eternally grateful for the work of my predecessor, Erik Arneson. From his critical involvement in the drafting the Right to Know Law to leading the OOR to new levels, he is truly a legend in the movement to improve accountability and transparency in government.

I am already greatly impressed by the dedication and drive demonstrated by the staff at OOR. They clearly believe that their work is not simply a job but part of a mission to make Pennsylvania work better for everyone.

The article linked below provides more details about my background and vision for OOR.

Sincerely,
Liz Wagenseller

https://www.spotlightpa.org/news/2021/01/pennsylvania-open-records-office-director-liz-wagenseller/

Today at 2 p.m. – RTKL Webinar for Requesters

Office of Open Records LogoToday (Mon., Jan. 11, 2021) at 2 p.m., I will host a webinar about the Right-to-Know Law designed for requesters, including members of the media and anyone interested in accessing government records in Pennsylvania.

This webinar will be held via Zoom. You can find all the details you need to join on the OOR’s training calendar. It should last about 90 minutes, and there will be plenty of time for questions and answers.

Here’s the PowerPoint presentation that I’ll use:

The OOR regularly hosts webinars and in-person training sessions about various topics related to the Right-to-Know Law and the Sunshine Act. Feel free to request a specific training session for your group or organization.