I agree: Pennsylvania government is too open. Here is a top 10 list of ways to solve this vexing problem

I was at a meeting yesterday at which I found out about two open records cases that have been appealed to Commonwealth Court.

In one appeal, the governor’s office claims, among other things, that direct dial government phone numbers — in other words, their work numbers — are personal and thus exempt from being released under the Right to Know Law. It also claims that giving out workers’ county of residence would pose a security risk.

In another, the lieutenant governor’s office claims, among other things, that individual email addresses of government workers — the ones given to the workers by the state government — are exempt from release because they are personal identification information.

Because the public’s desire for information about the government it pays for is clearly out of control, I feel like we need to do something to protect state officials and legislators. I have helpfully compiled the top 10 solutions to the problem of the public knowing anything about public officials in state government:

1. Because names are “personal identification information,” all government agency staff listings will henceforth include only the names “John Doe” for males and “Jane Doe” for females.

2. The capitol dome will be covered by a giant version of Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak, so the public will not be able to see where the legislature and state government employees work.

3. No public officials’ mailing addresses will be given out, as it would be a security risk to do so. Instead, mail to public officials will have to be sent to “(Name/department or office), Harrisburg, Pa.” You will have to trust that it will get there.

4. Candidates’ names will not appear on election ballots, as the release of their names would be a risk to their security.

5. All state government websites will be taken down to avoid the risk that information about state government employees could accidentally make its way to residents.

6. When the governor, lieutenant governor or other prominent state official makes a public appearance or presentation, he or she will do so from behind a barrier so that people can not see his or her face. Faces are personal identification information.

7. Any member of the media who takes or publishes a photograph of the governor, lieutenant governor or other prominent state official will be arrested and charged with invasion of privacy. (The records related to that arrest will not be public.)

8. The governor, lieutenant governor or other prominent state official may give taped or live TV interviews, but their faces and voices — which are personal identification information — must be altered.

9. Biographical information distributed to media for the governor, lieutenant governor and other prominent officials will be limited to the following:

  • This person is very experienced at what he/she does, having worked in leadership roles for various private companies and in public service.
  • This person is from a town in Pennsylvania.
  • This person graduated from college.
  • This person looks impressive in a dark blue suit (we cannot provide photos, as that would allow people to personally identify the official).
  • This person is very smart.
  • This person has accomplished many things in his/her life that will make him/her a good public servant.

10. The state will no longer publish public officials’ phone numbers or email addresses, both of which are personal identification information. To increase the accessibility of public officials to the people they serve, however, the state has created one phone number and one email address people can use to get in touch with their elected representatives or state officials. But because the number and email address are personal identification information for state government itself, they are exempt under the Right to Know Law and will not be released.

About Scott Blanchard

Sunday editor at the York (Pa.) Daily Record/Sunday News. Follow me on Twitter and Google+.
This entry was posted in denials, Right-to-Know Law, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to I agree: Pennsylvania government is too open. Here is a top 10 list of ways to solve this vexing problem

  1. 11. Since all citizens who sign a candidate’s Nomination Petition to try and help a wannabe politician enter the capitol dome have a constitutional right to privacy in their voting residencies; those citizens’ addresses shall not be publicly released or available to the opposing candidate. Any challenges to the re-election effort of the Governor shall be met with the response “Trust me. I’m Tom Corbett and I got enough valid signatures.”

    12. Since all teachers who get issued school email addresses have a privacy right to only use those email addresses with fellow teachers, all parents who have questions about their kids homework shall email an elected school board director and ask that person to forward their email to the teacher; and hope the elected school board director’s name isn’t Jim Cawley because then the elected school board director’s government-issued email address would be private too.

    13. Since all Pennsylvania citizens have a privacy right in their home address, no politician shall be allowed to obtain voter lists and then use taxpayer money to send out legislative updates during their re-election campaign; or in the alternative shall be required to guess where to send their junk mail.

    14. Since property ownership records which have been public since colonial times will no longer be available because they show someone’s home address; a prospective home-buyer and their real estate agent shall be required to send their purchase offer to Tom Corbett and Jim Cawley, who in turn will require the prospective buyer to go to court to obtain governmental permission to contact the seller.

  2. Tim Potts says:

    Beautifully done. But this is way too close to the truth for comfort.

  3. Leave the US says:

    Are you serious? This article is discriminatory and offensive. Here in the United States, if an individual willingly places them self in the public eye they have no expectation of privacy. Furthermore, if they are a government employee, which I am in one way or another paying, I do have the right to know how much they are paying themselves and whether they are receiving kick backs from corporations they have given tax cuts. You are ant-American and should probably relocate to a communist country.

    • Well, if I have to pick a Communist country, I guess it’ll be Cuba, for the climate. Better than China, North Korea and those types, anyway.

      But seriously, Leave the US, the answer to the question that opens your comment is, “No.” The post is satire. Pennsylvania government can be ridiculous when it comes to trying to keep private what are clearly public records, so I wrote those outrageous things as a way of pointing that out. Sorry you missed the signals, but thanks for reading.

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