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Keeping Local Government Open with PA Public Records Act Spotlight PA State Colleges

In January, I event It highlighted how Pennsylvania’s fragmented system of local governments works impede public surveillanceThe interest in the topic and the number of questions asked by the participants overwhelmed, delighted and inspired me. What if he at the Commonwealth regularly answers questions about over 2,500 municipalities?

How local government works is a new series town story, Newsletter by the State College Area Department of Spotlight PA. This series focuses on local government issues and trends in Pennsylvania and provides tools for holding local government officials to account. Questions about your local government?on mail mxian@spotlightpa.org We will answer in the newsletter.

Ever wondered how your municipality makes decisions? Perhaps you want to look at ongoing renovation projects to understand the need for a makeover and its cost. Planning board meeting minutes or contracts with builders, among other types of public records, may answer your question.

where should i look? This information may not be available online, but may be available by contacting us.

of Pennsylvania right to know law Allow public access to all government records unless disclosure is prohibited by specific exceptions such as protection orders or physician and patient privileges.

A basic understanding of the law will help you comply with state and local government decisions. Here’s what you should know:

Assuming the record is public

Under the Right to Know Act, all records are presumed to be public records and government agencies have the burden of establishing why they are not available.

A federal agency that includes the offices of the governor and attorney general. Local agencies such as boroughs, townships, boards of education, and authorities. Legislative bodies are subject to law. In particular, Pennsylvania courts and other judicial bodies are only required by law to provide financial records.

What are public records?

The Public Records Act defines a record as a wide range of information, so long as it records the transactions or activities of an institution and is created, received, or retained in accordance with the law or in connection with the transactions, business, or activities of that institution. Agencies.” Essentially, if a record involves a government agency or public funds, the public has a right to access it.

Proceedings of public meetings, e-mails relating to agency business, contracts, and salaries involving public funds are examples of public records.

Create request

Lawful residents of the United States may file requests under the law. Requesters are not required to explain why they are requesting information, but requests must be limited, specific in scope, and within a specific time frame.

It’s worth doing some research before submitting a request. The information you are looking for may already be publicly available. (In that case, the agent may inform you of this.)

Public Records Office of Pennsylvania keep the list All Open Records Officers in the Commonwealth.Before making a request, consider contacting the officer in charge to find out how the agency keeps records and what wording can identify what you are looking for. check rights Case index Published by the Office of Open Records to find court interpretations of how the law should work.

Agency must respond to requests within 5 business days of submission. You can grant the request, deny it, or call a 30-day extension to respond.

Tracking response times is essential, especially when an appeal is required. Ed Mahon in PA recently spotlighted explained Five Key Elements of the Appeal Process.

legal restrictions

Personal information such as social security numbers, confidential information between attorneys and clients, and law enforcement information such as ongoing criminal investigations are among the records protected by law.

In rare cases, a claimant’s right to request public records through law may be restricted.

David Rosner sued Buckingham Township in 2020, claiming the Bucks County municipality charged him excessive and unacceptable fees when he sought approval for a stormwater management plan and building permit. He settled the lawsuit in January, and the township gave him both approvals and agreed to make other concessions.

However, Rosner said Buckingham Township has also requested that several “right to know” requests and appeals be dropped. not cause harassment, annoyance, or undue burden [Buckingham Township]”

Rosner accepted the terms, but told Spotlight PA that he was frustrated that the township had taken advantage of his right to public information. [the Right-to-Know Law]”

Buckingham Township Manager Dana Cozza disagreed, telling Spotlight PA that the settlement was intended to “settle a number of lawsuits, including several Right to Know Requests appeals.”

Cozza added that the terms limiting Rosner’s open record request are the result of negotiations in which Rosner participated. “It would not be troublesome to have Mr. Rosner exercise the same integrity in making Right to Know requests that the Township must exercise in responding to them.”

While it’s important to acknowledge that Rosner agreed to the terms voluntarily and was not coerced by the government, the scenario is “troublesome,” said Melissa, media legal counsel for the Pennsylvania News Media Association. Melyusky said. Part of.

“If government agencies start banning RTKL requests as a bargaining tool, it could make them inaccessible to others, leading to unintended negative consequences. [law]’ said Merevsky.

support this journalism Help energize local news in north central Pennsylvania. spotlightpa.org/statecollegeThe spotlight PA is foundation and readers like you Those working in public service journalism with accountability and results.

https://www.spotlightpa.org/statecollege/2023/03/pennsylvania-right-to-know-local-government-open-records/ Keeping Local Government Open with PA Public Records Act Spotlight PA State Colleges

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