Pa. right-to-know law lunacy

Please tell me what I’m not seeing in the following mystifying situation:

During a public meeting, a borough councilman reads into the record a statement about an audit.

A resident asks for a copy of the statement.

The councilman says he has to check “to see whether he could legally hand over the statement he read,” according to a story in the Beaver County Times, because some audit info can be exempt under the right-to-know law.

Excuse me, but: HE READ IT INTO THE RECORD AT A PUBLIC MEETING. He made it public just by doing that. (About two weeks later, the paper reports, the councilman released the letter.)

Why do so many people squirm so much when dealing with the open-records law? Why do so many in Pennsylvania government still believe that a record is private unless a lawyer assures them it’s public? Just wondering.

About Scott Blanchard

Sunday editor at the York (Pa.) Daily Record/Sunday News. Follow me on Twitter and Google+.
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2 Responses to Pa. right-to-know law lunacy

  1. No question about it, some public officials are just intimidated by the new law, and believe that the list of exemptions is a list of records that MUST NOT BE RELEASED or MAY NOT BE RELEASED.
    This is NOT the case. Not at all.
    The list of exemptions is a list of records that DO NOT HAVE TO BE released under the law. In other words, if an agency feels the record should be protected, it may legally withhold it.
    But no where in the Right to Know Law does it say records that fit one of the exemptions MUST BE WITHHELD. It simply says they can be.
    The new law, after all, presumes that public records are open to the public. And agencies specifically have the discretion to release any records they want.
    But many officials — and even the solicitors who advise them — continue to believe they are “not allowed” to release records that fit the exemptions.
    Basically, there’s just a lot of fear out there of doing the wrong thing. Public officials need to become better informed about the law … Unfortunately, many solicitors do, too!

  2. Yeah, Kim, I think you nailed it.
    I’m guessing a solicitor would say: We live in a society where people sue people for anything and everything. So we’re not going to release a record if we don’t have to and if we think there’s any possible way someone could use it in some kind of a lawsuit against us.
    Maybe that’s too much of a broad-brush statement, but I think that sentiment is definitely there.

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