PLYMOUTH Borough Coordinator Joe Mazur may be frequently effective for his constituents, and borough councilman Clif Madrack may be occasionally contentious for the sake of contention (and attention), but in their recent dispute about access to the proposed budget, Mazur is wrong, and needs to learn what a public record is … and why it's public.
Madrack complained that he asked for a copy of the proposed budget and was denied. Mazur argues no copies are offered because: 1) The law only requires the budget be available for public inspection, 2) Anyone can review the budget at the borough office, 3) Copies have never been provided, including during Madrack's own tenure as borough administrator, and 4) disseminating copies could prompt confusion and evoke criticism of a work in progress.
Somewhat bizarrely, when Times Leader staff writer Mark Guydish requested a copy of the budget and Mazur declined, he voiced no complaints about taking photographs of the budget and posting it on this newspaper's website. Mazur also readily discussed differences in last year's budget and the proposal.
This newspaper then posted on its website the 2012 budget, the 2013 proposal, and a spreadsheet comparing the two, making it not only accessible to all Plymouth residents with online access, but to the world – something that, frankly, the borough should have done itself.
Pennsylvania Newspaper Association Media Counsel Melissa Melewsky called Mazur's argument an artificial barrier to public access. Her point: If the proposed budget is available for public inspection, as required by law, then it is a public record, subject to the state's Open Records law, which requires Plymouth to provide copies at a reasonable cost.
Madrack's reputation among some as a troublemaker may seem to justify Mazur's concern, but the law doesn't support Mazur's actions. More importantly, Mazur needs to have enough trust in the proposed budget, and his constituents, to be willing to provide copies and defend it. Who knows, he might even get some sound ideas or tips that improve the budget and the borough.
It's called transparency, and it is the backbone of government accountability and public trust. Refusing to provide copies of the proposal upon request of a borough councilman was, as Melewsky observed, very silly.
And then allowing, through our website, the world to see the proposed budget – well that's ridiculous.
Which makes the behavior appear spineless.