Sunshine Week 2019 – OOR Webinars

As part of Sunshine Week 2019, the Office of Open Records is hosting a series of webinars. Some will be of more interest to agencies, some of more interest to requesters, and some will be of interest to both groups.

(The OOR’s webinars run via Skype, so you may need to download a small app to participate, but in our testing the process has been pretty seamless. Everyone who signs up will receive directions on how to access the webinar a couple days in advance.)

Here’s the schedule of webinars:

Right-to-Know Law Training for Requesters
Monday, March 11, 2:00 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Basics for New Agency Open Records Officers
Tuesday, March 12, 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m.

2019 Agency Open Records Officer Survey Results
Tuesday, March 12, 2:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.

Sunshine Act Training
Wednesday, March 13, 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m.

About Office of Open Records Mediation
Wednesday, March 13, 2:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.

Recent Court and Office of Open Records Decisions of Note
Thursday, March 14, 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m.

Preparing Affidavits for Appeals
Thursday, March 14, 2:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.

Releasing the 2018 Office of Open Records Annual Report
Friday, March 15, 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m.

Office of Open Records Website Resources
Friday, March 15, 2:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.

In addition to the webinars, we’re also hosting one in-person training session for requesters at our office in Harrisburg:

In-Person RTKL Training for Requesters
Monday, March 11, 10:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

We hope you can join us for one or more of the sessions!

Commonwealth Court Upholds OOR Power of In Camera Review

Office of Open Records LogoCommonwealth Court issued a strong ruling yesterday upholding the ability of the Office of Open Records to conduct in camera review of records sua sponte (on its own motion). Berks County had argued that the OOR had no such power.

(In camera review means that the agency provides the relevant records to the OOR, where they are reviewed by the OOR before a Final Determination is issued.)

The Court held:

“It is well established that OOR and its appeals officers have authority to order and undertake in camera review of documents that have been withheld or redacted where, in the appeals officers’ judgment, in camera review is necessary to develop an adequate record to rule on the agency’s claims of privilege or exemption. …

“The County argues that this authority is limited to cases where one of the parties has requested in camera review or this Court has ordered OOR to conduct an in camera review on remand. We do not agree.”

The Court continued:

“[T]his Court has repeatedly reaffirmed OOR’s authority to order in camera review without imposing any requirement of a party request.”

In analyzing the position advanced by Berks County, the court said:

“[I]f it were held that OOR has no power to order in camera review sua sponte, OOR would be forced, in situations where no party makes a request, to either hold an unnecessary hearing or default on its obligation to develop an adequate record, requiring the courts to conduct additional fact-finding or remand to OOR for in camera review. The only effect would be to require unnecessary delay and inefficiency in the review and appeals process with no actual difference in whether in camera review is conducted.”

The ruling also contains an excellent summary of why in camera review can be a remarkably useful tool for deciding Right-to-Know Law appeals:

In camera review can be of critical importance in determining whether documents requested under the RTKL are protected by privilege and may sometimes be the only means by which an appeals officer and the courts can adjudicate a privilege claim on an adequate record.”

Presentation for 12/5 Requester Training

Yesterday, the Office of Open Records hosted a training session designed for requesters at our office in Harrisburg.

Topics covered include how to write a good RTKL request, accessing information in databases, significant deadlines in the RTKL, how to appeal a RTKL denial, and more.

Here’s the PowerPoint presentation I used for this session:

Requester Training – Dec. 5, 2018 – PDF
Requester Training – Dec. 5, 2018 – PPTX

The OOR regularly provides training on Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law and Sunshine Act. Our training calendar is available here, and we always welcome requests to provide training.

Our next scheduled training for requesters will take place on March 11, 2019.

New Standard RTKL Request Form

Standard RTKL Request Form (Sample)The Office of Open Records (OOR) is required by Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law (RTKL) to “develop a uniform [request] form which shall be accepted by all Commonwealth and local agencies” (Section 505(a) of the RTKL).

Pursuant to that duty, the OOR has issued a new version of the Standard RTKL Request Form, which is available here in both PDF and DOCX formats:

Right-to-Know Law Forms

The new Standard RTKL Request Form reflects great input from both agencies and requesters. We asked for your thoughts back in September, and you came through. Thank you to everyone who offered suggestions.

We weren’t able to incorporate every idea, of course, but we did incorporate many. We hope and expect that the new form will be significantly more useful for everyone involved in the RTKL process.

As required by Section 505(a) of the RTKL, all Commonwealth and local agencies must accept RTKL requests submitted on the new Standard RTKL Request Form, as well as requests submitted on previous versions of the Standard RTKL Request Form.

The new Standard RTKL Request Form can also be accessed directly via these links:

New RTKL Flowchart

RTKL Flowchart (2018 Final Updated Version)A new version of a flowchart designed by the Office of Open Records to help explain Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law process is now available.

In October, we posted a draft update and asked for suggestions on how to improve it. We appreciate everyone who shared their ideas.

The new flowchart is available here:

Presentation for OOR’s 2018 Annual Training

Office of Open Records LogoThis afternoon at 2:00 p.m., the Office of Open Records will hold its annual training session on Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law and Sunshine Act.

The session is taking place in Harrisburg, but you can also join us by webinar. (Get all the details and sign up here.) It’s free, and 2 CLEs (1 substantive, 1 ethics) are available for attorneys.

The session will include presentations by me (Erik Arneson), Director of Training and Outreach George Spiess, Chief Counsel Charles Brown, General Counsel Delene Lantz, and Deputy Director Nathan Byerly. We’ve combined all of our PowerPoint slides into a single presentation:

OOR Annual Training 2018 (PPTX)
OOR Annual Training 2018 (PDF)

Complete video will be available sometime after the session ends.

Draft Update to RTKL Flowchart

RTKL Flow Chart DRAFTMany years ago, the Office of Open Records created a flowchart to help explain Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law process to both agencies and requesters.

In response to some suggestions to make the flowchart even more useful, we’re updating it. And we’d love to have your input.

Here are two versions of the flow chart, both in PDF. The current version first, followed by the draft update:

If you have any thoughts you’d like to share, please do! Leave a comment on this blog post, or use the OOR’s comment form.