Friday, September 16, 2016

Good turnout for RTK Session

Last night's Right To Know Session at Mt. Lebanon Library had a good turnout. I saw lots of familiar faces, including Mt. Lebanon Manager Keith McGill. He was the only one representing an agency. There was no representation from the MTL School District or from any other local government.

The evening began with State Representative Dan Miller introducing the Executive Director of the PA Office of Open records Erik Arneson. Erik began with a PowerPoint presentation, followed by an update from Dan on proposed current legislation, including Senate Bill 411.

Dan and Erik took questions from the audience up until the very last minute the library was open. One of the questions that sticks out in my mind was the question about attachments in a Right To Know. Here is the background. ORO Bonnie Cross would not include the attachments in a RTK which Nick M. requested. She felt that Nick needed to specifically request attachments. Seriously. I'm not joking. I don't know where she gets this stuff. Erik said that the attachments must be included with the requested public records. I hear that she is going to attend an Open Records event next week. I did hear that the assistant manager, Ian McMeans is the back up ORO. I hope he attends too.

I want to thank Dan Miller's office for sending the presentation, as well as thank both Dan Miller and Erik Arneson for a very informative session.


Jason Margolis said...

Dan Miller is one of the good guys -- straight-shooter, and when there is disagreement on an issue, he does it with respect, humility, and facts.

RG said...

The presentation was fine, but it was an exchange between Mr. Miller and Mr. Arneson concerning what might happen to a local government that ignores the RTK law that caught my attention. As I understand it, there is very little chance that any local government - and this includes school boards - would be fined or otherwise punished if those entities decided to not comply with a directive to make documents available to a requester. Another person asked a more direct question about this to Mr. Arneson, and he had a tough time responding to it. I can accept that many local governments are nothing more than a part-time clerk and a mailbox (although that's not an excuse for Mt. Lebanon or its school district), and it is tough for them to do a lot of records research - if they even have records to research. But there's another reason why getting RTK compliance is so tough.

Governments everywhere do not like to be challenged or examined for the simple reason that governments are people - a handful of people making laws and setting rules for the vast majority of other people (e.g., five commissioners vs. 33,000+ residents). And people in power don't like to have their silly statements or questionable behavior made public. In the Empire State, the New York City Police Department is refusing to release figures on how much money they have collected through civil forfeiture, despite a lawsuit forcing them to do so. Even the feds have trouble with disclosures. The Justice Department requires the states to report the number of police shootings and the circumstances behind them. Only half of the known incidents have been reported to date, and the feds have yet to compel compliance. (Professional courtesy?!)

Dan Miller was right on target when he said, and I paraphrase, that action on the political front will require more than one-third of the eligible voters going to the polls. I would add that nothing will change at any government level until there is a demand for candidates who understand the limitations of government.