State’s Office of Open Records busy for right reasons

The state’s Office of Open Records handled an 89-percent increase in the number of appeals since 2009 when the revised Right-to-Know Law went into effect.

There are to ways to look at that number. Maybe it’s just evidence that the long-overdue Right-to-Know Law changes are working. Or, boy, there are sure are a lot of public issues that the public is having to work very hard to shine a light on.

Actually, the Office of Open Records has set records in caseload each of the past four years and the caseload keeps rising.

Six attorneys on the office’s staff resolved all 2,188 appeals in 2012,

Additionally, the office handled more than 10,000 telephone calls and e-mail inquiries in 2012 and participated or monitored nearly 170 cases in the Court of Common Pleas, Commonwealth Court and Supreme Court.

Just as importantly, the office conducted nearly 800 training sessions statewide regarding the law.

Among the appeals, 752 were filed against state agencies and 1,436 were filed against local agencies.

Among items sought by requestors were inspection reports of school cafeterias, cost information on agency investigations, information on property tax assessments, litigation and e-mails of government officials.

There is lots of evidence the law is working. Pennsylvania used to be among the least transparent states in the nation.

The latest rankings have the state as high as fifth in national transparency.

While the law changes have been helpful to the media in its mission to inform the public, they are just as important to the public. If you see something in your local government that frustrates you from a public information standpoint, use this law to get the access.

In the meantime, we view with great curiosity a new proposal to change some part of the Right-to-Know Law. We understand some of the changes, such as limiting inmate access to records, since they accounted for 31 percent of the Office’s appeals.

We are wary of other changes, such as the right of public agencies to ask what the purpose of records searching is. Stay tuned on these changes.