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 This includes noting any out-of-date information about how COVID mitigations are affecting RTKL requests.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.

Kyle Applegate Is the OOR’s New Chief Counsel

OOR is thrilled to share exciting changes. After 10 years with the office, Kyle Applegate is our new Chief Counsel. He replaces Charles Rees Brown, who retired after 10 years at OOR and more than 25 with the Commonwealth.

Serving as Assistant Chiefs Counsel are Josh Young (seven years at OOR) and Magdalene Zeppos-Brown (six years).

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.

New Citizens’ Guide to the RTKL and Sunshine Act

Open records_logo stacked

The OOR’s Citizens’ Guide to the Right-to-Know Law and Sunshine Act is an introduction to these two laws, both of which promote government transparency.

The Citizens’ Guide has been completely rewritten and the new version is available now.

The RTKL, also known as the open records law, grants access to public records. The Sunshine Act, also known as the open meetings law, ensures access to public meetings.

The Citizens’ Guide, a 12-page PDF, includes sections on how to file a request, agencies subject to the RTKL, fees under the RTKL, how to file an appeal, and more.

2 New Draft Sample Forms for Public Comment

Open records_logo stacked

The Office of Open Records has posted two new draft sample forms and is seeking public comment on both.

The Right-to-Know Law and other statutes make various records public, including certain records from law enforcement agencies and county coroners. The OOR often dockets appeals involving these types of records. In an effort to help these agencies provide information under the RTKL, and to help requesters across the state receive more uniform responses, the OOR has prepared these two sample forms.

Law enforcement agencies and county coroners would not be required to use the forms, but doing so could help reduce the workload related to responding to RTKL requests. (These forms do not represent the totality of information available from these agencies, but they do represent some of the most commonly requested information.)

Public comment on the draft forms will be accepted through Monday, Feb. 8, 2021.

The best way to comment is via email to openrecords@pa.gov or by using the form available on the Contact page at the OOR website. Comments can also be submitted via postal mail (Office of Open Records, 333 Market Street, 16th Floor, Harrisburg, PA 17101-2234) and fax (717-425-5343).

OOR to Post Final Determinations from District Attorneys

Open records_logo stacked

Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law gives county District Attorneys the responsibility of appointing an appeals officer to decide RTKL appeals “relating to access to criminal investigative records in possession of a local agency of that county.”

District Attorneys have been doing this since the RTKL went into effect at the start of 2009. Until now, there has been no effort to provide a central location where all of those decisions can be found.

Yesterday, the Office of Open Records sent letters to all 67 District Attorneys requesting that they forward to the OOR copies of any Final Determinations issued by their offices — including past and future Final Determinations — so that they can be posted to a new page on the OOR website.

We believe this new page will be a tremendous resource for agencies, requesters, and District Attorney appeals officers. The target date for making the page go live is Monday, Feb. 1.