Profile: Woman uses law to inspire change

The Right-to-Know Law can be a powerful tool, helping citizens affect change within governing bodies.

Williamsport resident Rebecca Burke, a former county commissioner, inspired Lycoming County to add its budgets from years prior to the county’s website, according to county officials.

She submitted a Right-to-Know request in February of 2015 seeking the finalized budget for that year.

She said she also requested via a Facebook post that past budgets be made available online.

“The request was made to encourage the county to put old budgets online so the public could have the opportunity to craft questions based on an informed perspective rather than a blind perspective,” Burke said.

She compared the past way of doing things to a teacher starting class off with, “Okay, any questions?”

“When creating their budgets, the commissioners have outreach meetings to get feedback from the public,” she said. “However, the public didn’t have a baseline to start with.”

County Right-to-Know Officer Matt McDermott said the county strives to be transparent and is happy to help people find information they’re looking for. If someone requests something that is on the county’s website, he said the county will direct them to specific web page or, if documents are owned by another entity, the county will lead people to the proper channels.

“We do very well trying to answer requests,” he said. “We try to steer people in the right direction.”

Burke praised the Right-to-Know Law, saying it’s meant to help “the average Joe” get documents.

“The Right-to-Know Law was not written to make it harder for the public to gain information,” Burke said. “It was put into place to give taxpayers an appeal process when they were denied information.”

Liberty resident Judi Piccolella also made a difference by submitting Right-to-Know requests to the county, seeking minutes from the commissioners’ board meetings. Her requests led to the county uploading minutes to its website for public review.

In April of 2010, Piccolella requested minutes from the commissioners’ March 18, 2010, meeting as well as “two copies of (an) agreement with Mericle Commercial Real Estate Group.”

“Your request is granted. The meeting minutes are accessible by you from the County of Lycoming website where you may view them or print out copies at your leisure,” replied Fred F. Marty, then the county’s open records officer.