1,782 Appeals Involving Local Agencies in 2017

In 2017, municipal governments (cities, boroughs, and townships) were involved in 43.1% of Right-to-Know Law appeals filed against local agencies.

Here’s the complete list:

  • Local Education Agencies, 23.0%
  • Townships, 20.7%
  • Counties, 18.7%
  • Cities, 11.3%
  • Boroughs, 11.1%
  • Police Departments, 6.2%
  • Authorities, 5.1%
  • Fire Departments, 0.8%
  • Other, 3.0%

This information is from the OOR’s 2017 Annual Report.

Social Media and the RTKL

Open records_logo stackedTo date, few appeals made to the Office of Open Records have involved social media. In one recent case, Davis v. City of Butler Police Department, the requester sought the following social media records (the request has been lightly edited for clarity):

  1. All posts made by users to the Butler City Police Department and Butler City K9 Fundraiser Facebook pages between Feb. 6, 2016, and Feb. 12, 2016.
  2. A list of all personnel who operate the Butler City Police Department Facebook page, including full name, salary, and date of hire.
  3. A list of all users who have been blocked from the Butler City Police Department Facebook page.

The OOR found that the Police Department demonstrated that no responsive records exist regarding the first item. During the appeal, the Department provided the requester with records responsive to the second item.

As to the third item, the OOR directed the Department to provide a screenshot of its Facebook page indicating whether any banned users were listed.

The Department provided the screenshots, but also said in its filing that “it is outside [the OOR’s] authority to direct [the Department] to compile records that are not maintained in the ordinary course of business.” See 65 P.S. § 67.705. The OOR held that the Department did not create or compile a record when it provided the OOR with the requested screenshot from its Facebook page; rather, it produced information from a database which was created by and is under the direct control of the Department.

I predicted in our 2015 Annual Report that the OOR will face more issues involving social media records. This case is a good example.

Local Appeals in 2015 on a County-by-County Basis

Philadelphia is the state’s most populous county (and city), so it doesn’t come as a surprise that Philadelphia agencies were involved in more local appeals than those in any other county. The top 5 also included Allegheny, Montgomery, Dauphin, and Luzerne counties.

The first map below shows the number of non-inmate appeals involving local agencies which were filed with the OOR in 2015. (All local agencies — e.g., county government, school districts and municipalities — are included in each county total.)

CountyMapTotal

But… it might come as a surprise that Carbon County was at the top of the list in terms of per capita* appeals filed in 2015. The top 5 also included Dauphin, Elk, Cambria, and Luzerne counties.

The map below shows the number of non-inmate appeals involving local agencies filed with the OOR in 2015 per 100,000 population. (All local agencies — e.g., county government, school districts and municipalities — are included in each county total.)

CountyMapPerCapita

* To be precise, per 100,000 population based on 2014 U.S. Census Bureau Population Estimates.

The complete Office of Open Records 2015 Annual Report is available on our website (along with previous years).

EDITED TO ADD (March 18, 2016, at 10:12 a.m.):

These maps illustrate workload; the data doesn’t necessarily correlate to the quality of agency responses within a given county. There are many factors to consider in evaluating agency responses and determining why a given number of appeals were filed. For example, it’s quite possible that one or two incidents could spike the number of requests (and potentially appeals) at a given local agency. Also, larger population areas tend to have more requests filed, often with more nuanced issues involved.

Finally, I note that the Office of Open Records has no way of knowing how many appeals are simply granted by agencies. That data is not collected on a statewide basis.

1,794 Appeals Involving Local Agencies in 2015

61.3% of the appeals filed with the OOR in 2015 involved local agencies.

Among local agencies, municipal governments (cities, boroughs, and townships) were involved in the most appeals last year: 36%. If you include local police and fire departments, that percentage jumps to 58%.

Counties were involved in 21% of local agency appeals. School districts (8%) and charter schools (6%) combined for 14%.

AppealsFiledLocalAgencies

The complete Office of Open Records 2015 Annual Report is available on our website (along with previous years).

Agency Open Records Officer Guidebook

The Office of Open Records website (which, by the way, is scheduled to get a much-improved look and feel tomorrow!) includes numerous guides about the Right-to-Know Law for both requesters and agencies.

The newest — and most comprehensive — of these is our new Agency Open Records Officer Guidebook (PDF).

The AORO Guidebook, 79 pages in total (with a variety of sample forms agencies can use as templates), is designed to provide a general overview of the RTKL process from an agency perspective. We tried to write it to be helpful for both new and veteran AOROs.

If you have any comments or suggestions, please post them here or tweet to @ErikOpenRecords or @OpenRecordsPA. You can also email us at openrecords@pa.gov.