Transparency Zone, July 2022

Here are some final determinations of note from July of 2022.

If a requester is unable to access or print public records available on a website, the agency must print and provide them. 2022-1552

Agency bank account numbers do not constitute exempt personal identification information and agencies cannot redact them on that basis. 2022-1227

Proposal bid documents prior to the awarding of a contract are exempt from the RTKL. 2022-1037

In an otherwise public record, students’ faces in a video taken at a school may be blurred to protect privacy2022-1009

New Process for Appeals!

Might you be involved in a RTKL appeal? If so, we have important news to share.

Here’s the headline:

Beginning August 1, 2022, all appeals involving Commonwealth agencies under the Governor’s jurisdiction, with a few exceptions, will be processed through the E-File Appeal Portal.  This is the first of three phases as we move ALL appeals to this new system. The OOR E-File Appeal Portal User Guide can be found here, and OOR staff will be prepared to answer questions as users navigate the new process.  

Below are the details, including what to expect next.

The OOR is moving forward with our E-File Appeal Portal, with the goal of having all Right-to-Know Law (RTKL) appeals processed through the portal by spring of 2023. An early testing phase was conducted with most Commonwealth agencies and, after using the system for several months and making improvements based on what was learned, the OOR is ready to expand the usage to more Commonwealth and local agencies. 

The transition to universal use of the E-file Appeal Portal will occur through a three-phase process for the purpose of exposing all agencies, from the largest Commonwealth agency to the smallest local agency, to the E-File Appeal Portal system and having all users gain a proficiency in using the system.

Phase 1:  Beginning August 1, 2022, all appeals involving Commonwealth agencies under the Governor’s jurisdiction, with a few exceptions, will be processed through the E-File Appeal Portal. 

Phase 2: Currently scheduled to begin in October 2022, in Phase 2, local agencies will be chosen at random though a yet to be established interval, i.e. every third appeal received.  In this phase, the OOR will not seek permission from the parties prior to assigning the appeal to the E-File Appeal Portal.  Advanced notice of Phase 2’s start date will be widely publicized and is likely to come in mid-September.

Phase 3: The final phase will consist of a firm date when all appeals will be assigned to and processed through the E-File Appeal Portal, subject to limited exceptions such as, individuals without email access.  The beginning date is anticipated to be the spring of 2023.  A firm date for Phase 3 will be provided in early 2023.

You may want to refer to the OOR E-File Appeal Portal User Guide.  Please review it with your relevant staff and stakeholders.  The User Guide will be available on the OOR’s website.  In addition, more information will be provided during the OOR’s Annual Training. OOR staff will be available for questions, resolve any user problems, and receive feedback.  We are looking forward to working with all of you towards the goal of establishing the E-File Appeal Portal as a speedier and more efficient system for processing RTKL appeals for the Commonwealth.

Transparency Zone, May 2022 Edition

A review of some interesting final determinations from the past month.

Requesting all records from an agency will most likely be denied as insufficiently specific request. 2022-0711

After denying a request, an agency may change course and provide records after an appeal is filed.  2022-1032

An agency must prove a record is protected by the Copyright Act, and not just cite the act. 2022-1011

While you may file a RTKL request to seek election records, access to those records is governed by the Election Code. 2022-0453

Attention Open Records Officers

Good afternoon, happy Monday.

This morning, we sent all agency open records officers registered with our office a link to a survey.

We hope that all recipients take some time–less than five minutes–to answer the questions. They ask basic information regarding your agency’s experiences with Right-to-Know requests, helping inform the OOR and policy makers.

We’ll publish the results in early July.

Thank you.

Transparency Zone, April 2022 Edition

Some interesting final determinations from April of 2022.

Some records are explicitly exempt under individual laws:

The Local Taxpayer Bill of Rights exempts records that contain any information arising from tax investigations or audits, including records pertaining to the date on which an audit was commenced, since that would require the agency to reveal that it is collecting taxes from specific companies and initiating audits thereof. 2022-0595

The Insurance Department Act exempts from the RTKL records obtained during the Department of Insurance’s investigations into suspected insurance fraud and unfair trade practices. 2022-0547

The Unemployment Compensation Law states that records related to unemployment are confidential and exempt from the RTKL; the RTKL itself also contains a provision exempting a wide range of UC claimant information. 022-0677

Asking for any records that include your name may be an insufficiently specific request. 2022-0771

Most student records are protected, even when they pertain to your own children.  However, parents might have a separate right to access under the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act (“FERPA”).  2022-0708

The home addresses on elected officials’ Statement of Financial Interest may not be redacted. 2022-0862

The Transparency Zone, March 2022 Edition

Today we are unveiling a new monthly feature in our blog: 

The Transparency Zone

Each month, we will list final determinations of that are of interest, either for their topic or the RTKL nuance highlighted. While not all of them can be about finding buried gold or the secret location of a kangaroo, the OOR consistently explores thought-provoking issues and concepts.

Even your own medical records are exempt from disclosure. (2022-0609)

Anonymous requesters may be outright denied under the RTKL. (2022-0355)

Agency did not prove that surveillance video footage would reveal identify of medical marijuana patients. (2022-0103)

A high school football coach’s playbook is not a record of the school district. (2022-0378)

A requester may appeal the properness of redactions. (2021-2729)

Since a police report regarding a complaint about a neighbor’s wind chime is part of a noncriminal complaint, it is a protected record. (2022-0367)

The hold music audio file used in a local government’s telephone system is not a record of the agency. (2022-0248)


2021 Annual Report

The Office of Open Records is proud to present its 2021 Annual Report.

Read it here.

Highlights from this year’s Annual Report include:

  • 2,990 appeals were filed with the Office of Open Records in 2021, the busiest year ever.
  • Of those, 2,384 appeals involved local agencies; 549 involved state agencies.
  • Issued 2,913 decisions, the highest number ever and a 35% increase in five years.
  • Top 10 issues most raised on appeal and addressed by OOR.
  • 10 examples of records accessed via the RTKL.
  • Top OOR accomplishments in 2021.
  • 90 mediations to resolve appeals and 75 training sessions conducted across the state.

Daily Sunshine Week Webinars March 14-18 at 2 p.m.

Good afternoon,

March 13 through March 19 has been designated as Sunshine Week in Pennsylvania.  It is a week dedicated to promoting government transparency and accountability. 

The Office of Open Records is hosting daily webinars at 2:00 p.m. on various topics and there will be a limited time for questions and answers. 

These webinars are conducted via Microsoft Teams and you may be asked to download a small application. Please test the link prior to the webinar and speak with your IT department if you encounter issues.  Watch the webinars by clicking here to join the Microsoft Teams meeting.

You may also listen to webinar audio by joining via telephone at (267) 332-8737.  The Conference ID is 646 597 282#.

Monday, March 14: Sunshine Act  

Learn the how, when, where and why of public government meetings.  This panel of speakers will discuss a number of topics including the impact of COVID-19 on public meetings, new agenda requirements, public and live presence at meetings, case updates on Sunshine Act issues, and a practitioner’s view on the Sunshine Act related issues facing specifically local governments and schools.  Speakers will be George Spiess, the OOR’s Chief of Outreach and Training, Kelly Isenberg, an OOR Senior Appeals Officer, and Alexis Wheeler, Esq., an Associate Attorney at Strassburger McKenna Gutnick & Gefsky and Secretary of the Allegheny County Bar Association School and Municipal Law Section.

Tuesday, March 15: Submitting Evidence

Get an inside view of what kind of evidence an Appeals Officer considers when making a decision during an appeal.  The speakers will discuss and explain step by step how to successfully submit affidavits and evidence to the Office of Open Records.

Wednesday, March 16: Mediations

Don’t miss our Mediation webinar! This webinar will explore the OOR’s Mediation Program and discuss what this alternative means of resolution actually is, what happens during a mediation session, and why this process may be the easiest, quickest method of successfully resolving a RTKL appeal.  The leader of OOR’s mediation program, Katie Higgins, will provide an overview and talk with attorney Paula Knudson Burke about her experiences representing the media in OOR mediations.   

Thursday, March 17: Trending Topics in the Right-to-Know Law

Join Executive Director Liz Wagenseller, Deputy Director Nathan Byerly, and Outreach and Training Chief George Spiess for an interesting discussion on “trending topics” within government transparency that impact day to day life.  These topics will include but not be limited to discussions about RTKL appeals involving school subjects and curriculum, masking policies, and the 2020 election.  The audience is encouraged to send any questions, comments or topics they would like discussed beforehand.

Friday, March 18: Aggregated Data

Data, data and more data.  Government agencies collect and store an enormous amount of information.  Storage is as varied as the type of data collected.  Speakers will discuss the interaction of different types of data with various storage tools and how the RTKL applies.