Sunshine Week goal: More revisions to Right-to-Know Law
Today we mark the start of Sunshine Week, which celebrates your right to know about government’s business and our right to go about providing that information.
We should start with a thank you.
The Pulse of America 2018 National Survey Report says that 80 percent of you are very interested in local news.
And that’s what our point of emphasis is at the Sun-Gazette, so it looks like you want the public information we are trying to get you.
And most of the time, we are able to get that information.
But the Pennsylvania Right-to-Know Law, drastically revised a decade ago, exists for the times when we – or you – can’t get information from a public agency or government body.
So how well is the law working? The latest Legislative Budget and Finance Committee report gives a mixed a review. Auditors said about 40 percent of the 588 anonymous requests they made for agency budgets were ignored or turned down, even though that is indisputably a public record.
That’s not acceptable.
Neither is the lame excuse about the cost of complying with the law and the amount of time it can distract public employees from other duties.
More than half the agencies surveyed spent less than $500 annually dealing with open records requests.
And almost one-third of requests that the agencies themselves considered “overly burdensome” were fulfilled in less than three hours and another third in three to eight hours.
The study recommended the Right-to-Know Law be amended to let the Office of Open Records establish an hourly fee for requests made by commercial entities or requests that are exceedingly time-consuming, with exemptions for the working press or researchers.
Other amendments are needed. One we have been seeking for almost four years would make names of people seeking appointment to fill unexpired terms to elected positions public. Our efforts are ongoing.
In our view, it should be a no-brainer that the names of those seeking to fill an elected office would be known by everyone that office holder would be serving.
The Right-to-Know Law in Pennsylvania used to be archaic and unfriendly to the general public and media seeking to serve. With the revisions of the past decade, it is now a mixed bag of varied effectiveness.
For the good of all Pennsylvanians, the law needs to be revised further to become even more friendly to the people who pay a high price for government accountability.
We assume most public officials care about having the trust of the people they serve. A more open Right-to-Know Law is the most direct route to gaining that trust.