On open records issue, the Corbett administration is just plain silly

Gov. Corbett´s home address outside Pittsburgh is a matter of public record, but his administration isn´t happy about it.<br /><br /> ASSOCIATED PRESS FILE PHOTO
Gov. Corbett's home address outside Pittsburgh is a matter of public record, but his administration isn't happy about it. ASSOCIATED PRESS FILE PHOTO

AND NOW FOR something completely different.

 

There's an old but ever-entertaining Monty Python bit called the Ministry of Silly Walks that pokes fun at government and government workers.

 

It must have inspired lawyers working for the Corbett administration.

I can't think of another reason why the administration is appealing rulings by the state's independent Office of Open Records that state employees' office phone numbers and emails should be available to the public.

We need official government action to tell us we can have email and telephone access to the government we pay for?

Yep. And the administration running our government is in Commonwealth Court fighting against such access.

This has to come from the Ministry of Silly Appeals.

It must have been approved by someone who never heard Tom Corbett as candidate or governor proclaim advocacy of open, transparent government, including in his inaugural address when he said, "We must restore transparency."

At this point, I'd settle for restoring a little common sense.

Here's what happened.

Earlier this year, a couple of state residents invoked the Right-to-Know Law seeking information from the governor's office and the lieutenant governor's office.

Among the requests were work emails, including Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley's, and work phone numbers of dozens of employees, and the governor's home address in Shaler Township, outside Pittsburgh.

The requests were denied.

Administration attorneys actually argued that giving out the governor's home address "would require legal research to determine the governor's ‘domicile.' "

I am not making this up.

They also argued, more sensibly, that giving out the address puts the guv at security risk.

As to work emails and phone numbers, administration lawyers claimed they are exempt from right-to-know because they represent "personal-identification information."

I guess the thinking was that taxpayer-provided government phones and computer systems ostensibly used to serve the public better should be kept secret from the public.

Either that, or, hey, everything else — voter ID, Marcellus Shale issues, redistricting — is in court, let's throw this in there too.

Whatever the thinking, the Office of Open Records in June ruled against it, stressing that the law only exempts "personal" email and phone numbers.

The office said government-issued email addresses (including Cawley's) and phone numbers assigned to public officials and employees "cannot be considered anything other than public records." It said that if the Legislature intended to exempt them it would have specifically done so.

The Office of Open Records' executive director, Terry Mutchler, calls the information sought "among the most basic requests for public records."

In the instance of Gov. Corbett's home address, the office noted that all candidates must, under the state election code, file home addresses with the Pennsylvania Department of State.

So Corbett's address already is a matter of public record.

The issue isn't whether a couple of folks can get some administration contacts; it's why the administration thinks it's a good use of legal resources to fight release of basics, and further clog the state court system in the process.

Does our government want to hide in plain sight?

The governor's official website, governor.state.pa.us, has the main-office phone number, a link to email the main office and a list of senior staff, but no direct contact information for any of them.

There's a state telephone directory that's sometimes up-to-date. It's for sale only online ($3.50 plus shipping and handling), at shopPAheritage.com. The newest edition is due Aug. 15. It does not include work email addresses.

There are obvious reasons why government ought to be transparent.

There are specific reasons — based on campaign pledges and incumbent claims — that this administration ought to be transparent.

Fighting basic openness flies in the face of reason and, in this case, enters the realm of silly.

 

For recent columns, go to philly.com/JohnBaer. Read his blog at philly.com/BaerGrowls.
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