A recent annual report conducted by the state Office of Open Records shows a record number of appeals had been handled for 2012 — 2,188 — for citizens seeking public records.
“The Right-to-Know Law and (Office of Open Records) remain strong and effective tools enabling citizens to maintain a transparent and accountable government,” said Terry Mutchler, executive director of the office. “Pennsylvania continues to emerge as a national leader in open government as it now ranks as high as fifth in national transparency rankings.”
Mutchler, a former journalist, said in her report that although the office is handling the largest volume of appeals since it began in 2008, it is also in jeopardy because of the call for transparency.
Mutchler also said the office does not have the staff or money to “keep pace with the workload” and that might force “citizens … to reach into their own pockets and go to court when an agency denies a public record.”
Following is the procedure for those seeking public records:
Where can I file a Right-to-Know request?
A requester may submit a written request to a public agency (such as a municipality, county or state) seeking records. An agency has five business days to respond to that request.
How do I file a request?
Most agencies have a Right-to-Know officer, and a standard form can be submitted to that person by fax, email or mail. The request must include the requester’s name, contact information and the specific information he or she is seeking.
What happens if that request is denied?
If an agency denies that request or fails to respond within five business days, the requester can file an appeal with the state Office of Open Records.
What happens after an appeal is filed?
After assigning an appeals officer, the Office of Open Records permits both the requester and agency to submit arguments in support of their positions. After carefully weighing the evidence and legal arguments, the office issues a binding final determination within 30 calendar days.
What else does the Office of Open Records do?
The office also trains local and state officials on the Right-to-Know Law, conducts hearings, conducts mediations, reviews fees charged by agencies, fields questions, maintains its website and answers questions about the Right-to-Know Law.
Is there training for Right-to-Know officials?
Yes. The Office of Open Records holds training sessions annually as well as periodic sessions throughout the year. The next session will be held July 30. “What You Need to Know About Public Records and Open Meetings” will be presented in Philadelphia.
Where can I find forms for requests and appeals?
Forms can be found on the Office of Open Records Internet site: http://openrecords.state.pa.us.