Appeals Filed in the First Half of 2016

Open records_logo stackedA total of 1,146 appeals were filed with the Office of Open Records in the first half of 2016. Here’s the monthly breakdown:

  • January – 122
  • February – 317
  • March – 184
  • April – 141
  • May – 198
  • June – 184

That’s the second-busiest first half of the year ever at the OOR. Here’s a comparison of appeals filed in the first six months of each year the OOR has existed:

  • 2016 (Jan. to June) – 1,146
  • 2015 (Jan. to June) – 1,181
  • 2014 (Jan. to June) – 1,017
  • 2013 (Jan. to June) – 1,129
  • 2012 (Jan. to June) – 1,064
  • 2011 (Jan. to June) – 908
  • 2010 (Jan. to June) – 601
  • 2009 (Jan. to June) – 560

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.

873 Appeals Granted, Withdrawn or Found Moot in 2015

Appeals filed with the Office of Open Records can be grouped into six categories:

  • Granted
  • Withdrawn
  • Moot
  • Denied
  • Dismissed
  • Transferred

Requesters obviously gain access to records when appeals are granted. Less obvious is that they often gain access when appeals are withdrawn (only the requester can withdraw an appeal) or found to be moot (usually because records were provided during the appeal).

The most common reason appeals are dismissed is that they’re filed too early or too late. (Appeals filed too early can be refiled.) Appeals are transferred when the OOR isn’t the proper venue for an appeal (e.g., appeals involving a judicial office or statewide row office ).

The pie graph below shows the results of all non-inmate appeals filed in 2015 as of March 1, 2016.

AppealsGrantedNonInmate

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

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).

1,132 Appeals Involving State Agencies in 2015

38.7% of the appeals filed with the OOR in 2015 involved state agencies.

Once again, the Department of Corrections (41.5%) was involved in more appeals than any other state agency. The vast majority of appeals involving DOC were filed by inmates.

The State Police were involved in 9.2% of state agency appeals, followed by the Dept. of Transportation (5.3%), the Dept. of State (3.5%), and the Governor’s Office (3.4%).

AppealsFiledStateAgencies

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

1,414 Appeals Filed by Inmates in 2015

For the first time ever in 2015, inmates (48%) filed more appeals with the OOR than any other requester group. The previous high was 41%, set in 2013.

In 2015, citizens filed 39% of appeals, companies 8%, media outlets 5%, and government officials 0.3%.

Senate Bill 411, currently pending in the House State Government Committee, would limit inmate requesters to 11 specific categories of records, such as the inmate’s work, financial, educational, tax, voting, and disciplinary records, policies adopted by the correctional institution or the Department of Corrections, and criminal records relating to the criminal commitment of the inmate.

AppealsFiledByCategory

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

2,926 Appeals Filed with the OOR in 2015

As part of Sunshine Week, the Office of Open Records released its Annual Report for 2015. This post and the next several will take a look at some of the information included in that report.

The Office of Open Records officially opened its doors on January 1, 2009. In the first full year of operation, 1,155 appeals were filed. In 2015, that number was more than 250% higher.

In fact, 2015 was the busiest year ever — by far — for the OOR. The total of 2,926 appeals eclipsed the previous record of 2,478 appeals filed in 2013.

Beyond the numbers, the complexity of cases before the OOR also increased significantly in 2015. As both requesters and agencies gain experience with the RTKL, and as the body of case law develops, appeals tend to present more complicated and nuanced issues for the OOR to decide.

AppealsFiledByYear

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

Highlights from the OOR’s 2015 Annual Report

Today is the first day of Sunshine Week, and the Office of Open Records has traditionally released its Annual Report during Sunshine Week.

The OOR’s Annual Report for 2015 is available here. (Previous reports can be downloaded here.)

Some highlights from 2015 include:

  • 2,926 appeals filed last year, a record total.
  • 1,794 appeals involving local agencies vs. 1,132 involving state agencies.
  • For the first time, the Annual Report provides a county-by-county looks at local agency appeals.
  • 5 of the top appellate court decisions involving the RTKL.
  • 10 examples of records accessed via the RTKL.
  • 54 training sessions conducted across the state for about 1,500 people.
  • A look at what the OOR might face in the future.

Sunshine Week is a national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information. As part of Sunshine Week, I’ll be analyzing some of the data in the OOR Annual Report, along with some data that didn’t make the final report — and more — right here on our blog and also on our Twitter feeds:

January 2016 – 122 Appeals Filed

A total of 122 appeals were filed in January. That’s far below the 239 filed in December (which set a record for December) or the 353 filed in October (our all-time single month record) — but it’s right in line with the average number of appeals filed in January. (From 2009 through 2015, an average of 124.6 appeals were filed in January.)

It’s far too early to know what the year ahead holds, of course, but January tends to be a low-volume month. From 2009 to 2015, fewer appeals were filed in January than any other month. (February was only slightly higher; the numbers go up significantly in March through December.)

It’s hard to say why this is, but my working theory is that it relates to the holiday season — if fewer requests are filed in late November through early January, it would make logical sense that the OOR would receive fewer appeals in January and February.

December 2015 – Busiest December Ever

The Office of Open Records saw record-setting levels of appeals filed throughout 2015, and December was no exception. 239 appeals were filed in December — more than were filed in any previous December.

The OOR received a total of 2,926 appeals in 2015. That’s 448 more appeals than were received in 2013, the previous record. Here’s an updated look at how many appeals have been received by the OOR each year:

  • 2015: 2,926
  • 2014: 2,016
  • 2013: 2,478
  • 2012: 2,188
  • 2011: 1,772
  • 2010: 1,228
  • 2009: 1,155

I’ve started working on the OOR’s 2015 Annual Report, which I expect to include a lot more statistics. If there’s anything specific you’d like me to try and include in the annual report, let me know. Post a comment below or on Twitter (@ErikOpenRecords or @OpenRecordsPA), or send an email to openrecords@pa.gov.