Trainers are telling state workers learning a new phone system that they can use an instant-messaging feature to avoid citizens' public record requests. At least that's what Terry Mutchler, executive director of the Office of Open Records, is telling Gov. Tom Corbett.
Mutchler fired off a letter to Corbett after finding out that employees were specifically instructed at training sessions that certain telephone messages and instant messages are not subject to the open records law.
There's no way to retain so-called instant messages, which are intended for quick, routine communication, according to Dan Egan, a spokesman for the Office of Administration.
But use of technology would violate the spirit of the Pennsylvania Right to Know Law. And we agree with Melissa Melewsky, attorney for the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association, that using technology to avoid the law is "completely inappropriate."
While Pennsylvania's archaic Right to Know Law was modernized a few years ago and is more citizen friendly than it used to be, it's far from an easy path to public records information. In our business of providing readers public information, we experience the obstacles on an almost daily basis. But any type of training that suggests ways to get around the public's access rights to public records is over the pale.
Egan pointed out that nearly 57,000 employees are being trained on the new phone system, he knows what information is supposed to be presented and he has not witnessed the training alleged by the Office of Open Records.
He said the administration is concerned about such training and will take immediate steps to correct it. We certainly hope so.