Providing Minutes, Agendas & Other Basic Records

Open records_logo stackedDuring the Office of Open Records’ training sessions, we often get a question along these lines:

Does an agency have to require a Right-to-Know request before releasing records?

Our answer is unequivocal: No. Records can be provided informally.

In fact, it often makes better sense for an agency to release records informally rather than requiring an official RTK request.

A few examples:

  • Meeting minutes: These are among the most basic of records and should be easily available. If an agency has a website, minutes should be posted online. That reduces work for the agency and makes this basic information easily available to the public.
  • Meeting agendas: Many agencies post meeting agendas online prior to meetings, and the OOR strongly encourages this. Again, it saves the agency work and makes important information easily available to the public. (Legislation to require this passed the House in the 2019-20 legislative session and will likely be reintroduced in the 2021-22 session.)
  • Board packets: The information provided to board members (e.g., county commissioners, members of a school board, borough council, etc.) to refer to at a public meeting is usually public. On occasion, some of the information may be able to be withheld under the RTKL. But having copies of the public information in the packets available to the public — online, if possible — before a meeting starts is strongly encouraged.
  • Annual budgets: The budget process is one of the most important any agency goes through every year and financial records are the most public of all records under the RTKL.

Even if an agency doesn’t post these records online, they can be provided to a requester without requiring a formal RTK request. Forcing every request for information, no matter how simple, into the RTKL process generates unnecessary work for agencies and slows down the process of getting that information to the public.

As agencies continue to hold meetings virtually (or a combination of virtual and in person) during the COVID-19 pandemic, considering steps like these is even more important. It’s challenging enough for the public to follow agency business during normal meetings; that challenge is only increased when the meeting is held online.

The Office of Open Records welcomes and encourages questions from agencies and requesters alike. The best way to contact us is to use the contact form on our website.

RTKL Fee Schedule Updated

Open records_logo stackedSection 1307 of the Right-To-Know Law requires the Office of Open Records to establish a fee schedule for Commonwealth agencies and local agencies.

Section 1310 of the RTKL requires the OOR to review that fee schedule every other year. Duplication fees charged under the RTKL must be reasonable and based on “prevailing fees for comparable duplication services provided by local business entities.”

Today, the OOR updated the Official RTKL Fee Schedule. (It was last updated on Oct. 15, 2018.)

Prior to publishing this update, the OOR solicited comments. The OOR received 27 comments. The OOR also gathered pricing information from a sampling of local businesses that provide duplication services across the Commonwealth and reviewed other relevant pricing information.

The OOR made the following changes to the Official Fee Schedule:

  • Maintained the allowable charge for black and white copies at “up to $0.25 per copy” for the first 1,000 copies but reduced it to “up to $0.20 per copy” for any copies beyond that.
  • Reduced the allowable charge for a CD or DVD from “up to actual cost, not to exceed $3.00 per disc” to “up to actual cost, not to exceed $1.00 per disc.”
  • Clarified (in footnotes 4, 6 and 8) that agencies cannot charge for records they are able to redact securely by electronic means.
  • Made minor stylistic and grammatical changes.

Case Law Citations from 2020 Annual Training

Open records_logo stackedDuring yesterday’s Annual Training on Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law and Sunshine Act conducted by the Office of Open Records, Chief Counsel Charles Brown discussed recent court cases of note.

Here are the citations to the cases he discussed:

  • Easton Area Sch. Dist. v. Miller, 232 A.3d 716 (Pa. 2020)
  • ACLU of Pa. v. Pa. State Police, 232 A.3d 654 (Pa. 2020)
  • City of Hbg. v. Prince, 219 A.3d 602 (Pa. 2019)
  • Payne v. Pa. Dep’t of Health, 2020 Pa. Commw. LEXIS 700, No. 579 C.D. 2019 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2020)
  • Smart Communications Holdings, Inc. v. Wishnefsky, 2020 Pa. Commw. LEXIS 707, No. 80 C.D. 2019 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2020)
  • Pa. Dep’t of Lab. & Indus. v. Darlington, 234 A.3d 865 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2020)
  • Pa. Trpk. Comm’n v. Elec. Transactions Consultants Corp., 230 A.3d 548 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2020)
  • Pa. Pub. Util. Comm’n v. Friedman, 2020 Pa. Commw. Unpub. LEXIS 505, No. 980 C.D. 2019 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2020)
  • Pa. Liquor Control Bd. v. Burns, 2020 Pa. Commw. Unpub. LEXIS 313, No. 1159 C.D. 2019 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2020)

The OOR’s Right-to-Know Law Case Law Index is also a useful resource.

OOR 2020 Annual Training – Complete Video

Open records_logo stackedThe Office of Open Records held its 2020 annual training yesterday via Zoom.

Most years, our Annual Training only includes voices from the OOR. This year, the training focused on the impact of COVID-19 on the administration of Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law and Sunshine Act and we were joined by several extremely smart and knowledgeable people from outside the OOR. The complete lineup included:

  • Erik Arneson, OOR Executive Director
  • Charles Rees Brown, Esq., OOR Chief Counsel
  • Nathanael Byerly, Esq., OOR Deputy Director
  • Scott Coburn, Esq., PA State Association of Township Supervisors
  • Thomas Howell, Esq., PA Office of General Counsel Deputy General Counsel
  • Delene Lantz, Esq., OOR General Counsel
  • Melissa Melewsky, Esq., PA NewsMedia Association Media Law Counsel
  • George Spiess, OOR Chief of Outreach and Training

The complete video of the OOR’s 2020 Annual Training is available on the OOR YouTube channel (and below).

The PowerPoint presentation used during the training is available here:

OOR Annual Training – Nov. 18, 2020 (PPTX)
OOR Annual Training – Nov. 18, 2020 (PPTX)

Information about other OOR training sessions, including upcoming webinars, can be found on the OOR’s Training Calendar.

Presentation from Today’s OOR Annual Training

Open records_logo stackedEarlier this afternoon, the Office of Open Records hosted its Annual Training on the RTKL and the Sunshine Act.

The PowerPoint presentation used during that session is available here:

OOR Annual Training – Nov. 18, 2020 (PPTX)
OOR Annual Training – Nov. 18, 2020 (PPTX)

We plan to provide the entire session on the OOR’s YouTube channel as soon as possible.

Information about other OOR training sessions, including upcoming webinars, can be found on the OOR’s Training Calendar.

OOR Annual Training: Today at 1:30 p.m.

Open records_logo stackedThe Office of Open Records is hosting its Annual Training today (Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020) at 1:30 p.m.

This year’s session will focus on how the pandemic has affected the Right-to-Know Law and the Sunshine Act.

Scheduled panelists include:

  • Erik Arneson, OOR Executive Director
  • Charles Rees Brown, Esq., OOR Chief Counsel
  • Nathanael Byerly, Esq., OOR Deputy Director
  • Scott Coburn, Esq., PA State Association of Township Supervisors
  • Thomas Howell, Esq., PA Office of General Counsel Deputy General Counsel
  • Michael F. Krimmel, Esq., Commonwealth Court Prothonotary
  • Delene Lantz, Esq., OOR General Counsel
  • Melissa Melewsky, Esq., PA NewsMedia Association Media Law Counsel
  • George Spiess, OOR Chief of Outreach and Training

You can get more details and register for the Annual Training here. Unfortunately, CLEs are not available this year.

We plan to record today’s Annual Training to make it available on the OOR’s YouTube channel.

Information about other OOR training sessions, including upcoming webinars, can be found on the OOR’s Training Calendar.

OOR Conducting Surveys About the COVID-19 Pandemic

Open records_logo stackedThe Office of Open Records is conducting two surveys about the administration of the Right-to-Know Law and the Sunshine Act during the COVID-19 pandemic.

We would love to have your input.

If you are an Agency Open Records Officer (AORO), please complete this 34-question survey.

If you are a requester (e.g., member of the public, reporter, etc.), please complete this 25-question survey.

Each survey should take about 10 minutes. The deadline to complete the surveys is Monday, Nov. 16, 2020.

The survey results will be discussed at the OOR’s Annual Training on Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020, and will also be posted here on the Open Records in Pennsylvania blog. Note that all survey responses are records under the RTKL.

OOR 2020 Annual Training: Nov. 18 at 1:30 p.m.

Open records_logo stackedThe Office of Open Records is hosting its Annual Training on Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020, at 1:30 p.m.

This year’s session will focus on how the pandemic has affected the Right-to-Know Law and the Sunshine Act. It’s scheduled to include representatives of the OOR, state agencies, local agencies, and the media. There will be plenty of time for questions and answers.

You can get more details and register for the Annual Training here. Unfortunately, CLEs are not available this year.

Information about other OOR training sessions, including upcoming webinars, can be found on the OOR’s Training Calendar.

OOR Reviewing RTKL Fee Schedule, Seeking Input

Open records_logo stackedSection 1307 of the Right-To-Know Law requires the Office of Open Records to establish a RTKL Fee Schedule for Commonwealth agencies and local agencies. Section 1310 of the RTKL requires the OOR to review that fee schedule every other year.

The OOR last updated the fee schedule in October 2018. Today, our biannual review of the RTKL Fee Schedule officially begins for 2020.

We welcome your input. Please send all comments about the RTKL Fee Schedule to this email address:

FeeReviewOOR@pa.gov

The deadline to submit comments is Monday, November 30, 2020.

PUBLIC RECORD NOTICE: All comments submitted to the Office of Open Records will be public records and subject to public access with limited exceptions. If you do not want to include personal contact information in a publicly accessible record, please provide alternate contact information.

Process for Writing Guidelines Pursuant to HB 2463

Office of Open Records LogoHouse Bill 2463, which will officially be assigned an act number soon, is now law.

This law requires the Office of Open Records to “publish guidelines for a Commonwealth agency specifying how the Commonwealth agency is required to respond to a request for records made during a disaster declaration when the Governor has ordered the Commonwealth agency to close the Commonwealth agency’s physical location.”

Those guidelines must be published “[n]o later than five days after the effective date of this section.”

The OOR plans to publish the guidelines on Friday, July 31.

Between now (Monday, July 27, at 9:30 a.m.) and Wednesday, July 29, at 1:00 p.m., the OOR is accepting public comment on the guidelines. Comments can be directed to the OOR via the contact page on our website or via email, openrecords@pa.gov.

Please note that all submitted comments will be public records.

Added on July 28, 2020: HB 2463 is now Act 77 of 2020.