Presentation to County Treasurers

Office of Open Records LogoEarlier today, I spoke to a gathering of Pennsylvania’s elected county treasurers, hosted by the Pennsylvania State Association of Elected County Officials.

The session, part of a conference running June 11-14, was held in Cranberry Township, Butler County, and it focused on the Right-to-Know Law.

I very much appreciate the invitation.

Here’s the PowerPoint presentation I used:

County Treasurers – June 12, 2019 – PPTX
County Treasurers – June 12, 2019 – PDF

If you’re interested in training about the Right-to-Know Law and/or the Sunshine Act, please let us know.

Corporations Not “Individuals” Under RTKL

Office of Open Records LogoThe Commonwealth Court recently upheld an Office of Open Records decision finding that corporations are not “individuals” under the Right-to-Know Law exception allowing agencies to withhold donor identities (Section 708(b)(13)).

The specific case at issue involved California University of Pennsylvania and a request for records related to donations from Manheim Corporation to the Foundation for Cal U.

Here’s the Commonwealth Court decision, here’s the OOR decision from October 2018, and here’s the OOR docket sheet.

Sunshine Act Webpage Updated

Office of Open Records LogoThe Office of Open Records webpage about Pennsylvania’s Sunshine Act was updated recently.

We added four new sections:

  1. What’s considered deliberation?
  2. Can agency members participate in a meeting via telephone or video conference?
  3. Can official action be taken at a closed meeting?
  4. Can agency members discuss agency business via email and/or social media?

And made noteworthy updates to three sections:

  1. Can the public comment during public meetings?
  2. Can public meetings be recorded?
  3. Are there penalties for violating the Sunshine Act?

We also clarified that advance public notice is required for agency committee meetings, and that published notice must be in paid newspapers of general circulation (in addition to being posted on site).

The OOR does not have enforcement authority over the Sunshine Act, but Section 1310(a)(3) of the Right-to-Know Law authorizes (and in fact requires) the OOR to provide training on the Act. If you’re interested in training about the Sunshine Act and/or the Right-to-Know Law, please let us know.

Get a Daily Digest of All OOR Final Determinations

Office of Open Records LogoEach morning, Tuesday through Saturday, the Office of Open Records sends an email summarizing every Final Determination issued the prior day.

Reading that email each morning is a great way — probably the best way — to keep up to date on what issues are being decided in Right-to-Know Law appeals and how those issues are being decided.

If you deal with Pennsylvania’s RTKL on a regular basis, or you’re interested in Pennsylvania government transparency generally, I think it’s a must-read.

To subscribe, just head over to the OOR website and fill out this simple form. You can also choose whether or not you want to subscribe to our occasional, more general newsletter about issues related to the RTKL, the Sunshine Act, and government transparency.

Here’s a sample of what the email looks like:

Webinar – RTKL for Law Enforcement

Office of Open Records LogoThe Office of Open Records is hosting a webinar titled The Right-to-Know Law for Law Enforcement on Thursday, June 13, at 10 a.m.

This session, hosted by George Spiess, our Chief of Training and Outreach, will focus on those aspects of the Right-to-Know Law that are specific to police departments, such as investigatory records, the impact of Act 22 of 2017 (which covers police recordings), and CHRIA.

More information about the webinar is available on the OOR’s Training Calendar.

The OOR also has published a RTKL Guide for Law Enforcement Agencies.

Presentation to Media Requesters

This morning at the Office of Open Records in Harrisburg, I hosted a training session for a group of media requesters. The session focused on the Right-to-Know Law.

Here’s the PowerPoint presentation I used:

Media Requester Training – June 6, 2019 – PPTX
Media Requester Training – June 6, 2019 – PDF

If you’re interested in training about the Right-to-Know Law and/or the Sunshine Act, please let us know.

Commonwealth Court: Present All Evidence to the OOR

Office of Open Records LogoIn a ruling earlier this week, the Commonwealth Court made it clear to agencies subject to Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law that when an appeal is filed with the Office of Open Records, the agency should present all of its evidence to the OOR.

The case, Pennsylvania Department of Health et al v. Wallace McKelvey and PennLive, focused on applications submitted to DOH under Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana law. (Here’s the complete OOR docket.)

DOH and the companies which submitted the applications asked the Court to allow them to supplement the record with additional information which was not presented to the OOR. The Court denied the request:

“To the extent the record developed before OOR is inadequate, DOH and Permittees are at fault for that inadequacy. Lack of evidence, when the parties and participants had a full opportunity to submit evidence to the fact-finder, is not a valid reason for supplementing the record.”

Using logic that could also be adopted by Courts of Common Pleas, the Court said:

“Moreover, allowing additional evidence at the judicial review stage has implications beyond the present matter. To ensure the RTKL offers an expedient means of access to public records, parties withholding information must be held to their burden of proof. Accepting additional evidence without cause essentially allows agencies to withhold records without legal grounds until reaching a Chapter 13 court, undermining the presumption of openness that forms the foundation of the current RTKL.”

In the decision’s conclusion, the Court wrote:

“OOR afforded extraordinary due process to DOH and Permittees, including multiple opportunities to submit evidence supporting their redactions. DOH and Mission offer no reason for not submitting the evidence they want to submit to this Court during that process. Therefore, we deny their applications for relief seeking to supplement the record.”

On an unrelated point in the same decision, the Court explicitly held that “corporate information is not protected under an individual’s right to privacy” under the state constitution.