Open Records Director Says State Workers Given Misinformation

Aug 10, 2012

Some 58-thousand state workers have been receiving training on a new telephone system and the head of the Office of Open Records says the employees are receiving wrong information regarding the commonwealth's Right to Know law.  

Office of Open Records Executive Director Terry Mutchler says trainers told state workers that they could avert public records requests by using instant messaging. Mutchler says since she and lawyers and staff in her office are state employees, they underwent the phone training and heard the "misinformation" themselves.

"There's some folks that want to make this [training] a nefarious attempt to avert the Right to Know law," said Mutchler.  "I don't know that is accurate.  I think that we had some misinformation provided at the training and our goal at the Office of Open Records is to clarify that so everybody's on the same page."

The law took effect in 2009 and according to Mutchler phone records and every other record in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania are "presumed" to be open and available to the public.

"Say perhaps they (citizens) could go to a school district and say 'I'd like some information that is attorney client privileged,' they're not going to get that," Mutchler said.  "But if they ask for a salary or a superintendent's contract or emails or phone records, they are presumably open and available to the public under the law."

Mutchler sent a letter to Governor Corbett to alert him about her concerns, but says she doesn't expect an immediate response because he's dealing with many larger issues.  She said she just wants to make sure that the public and state employees are clear about the Right to Know law and what is covered, especially as technology continues to advance.

"We've had RIght to Know requests to our office for Twitter accounts of public officials.  Pennsylvania is at the cutting edge of assuring that citizens can track the records of their government."