Office of Open Records

Mary Wilson / WITF

The dispute over Gov. Tom Wolf’s decision to fire the state’s Open Records director is in the hands of a state court.

A Commonwealth Court panel will consider whether Wolf had the power to dismiss Erik Arneson, appointed by former Gov. Tom Corbett.

Wolf’s lawyers say the Open Records director is an at-will employee of the governor’s administration.

But Matt Haverstick, a lawyer for Arneson, says the law creating the office clearly intends to insulate it from the whims of the governor.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

Governor Tom Wolf is facing another legal challenge to his gubernatorial authority, less than a month into his term.

The Philadelphia district attorney’s petition to stop Wolf’s effective moratorium on the death penalty comes weeks after state Senate Republicans hauled the new administration to court for firing the Open Records director appointed by Wolf’s predecessor, Tom Corbett.

Each case has brought indignant legal filings accusing Wolf of gubernatorial overreach, but legal experts say the disputes wade into unsettled questions. 

Gov. Tom Wolf is holding off on a search for a permanent director of the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records while a state court considers whether he had legal authority to fire the last one.

Wolf's lawyers said in court filings this week, ahead of a Commonwealth Court hearing next month, that he has delayed the national search "out of respect for the expedited judicial process."

Another new filing, by the Office of Open Records, argues the court should remove it from the case brought by Erik Arneson and the state Senate Republican caucus against Wolf.

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf said Thursday he would void 28 last-minute nominations made by his Republican predecessor, Gov. Tom Corbett, as well as the "midnight appointment" of Erik Arneson as director of the state's Office of Open Records.

Arneson, a former top aide in the state Senate GOP, was selected to run the OOR less than two weeks before Wolf's inauguration.

Wolf criticized the appointment at the time.

Erik Arneson will become the new executive director of the Pennsylvania’s Office of Open Records Gov. Tom Corbett announced Friday.

Arneson will replace Terry Mutcher, the office’s first director who is stepping down to join the law firm Pepper Hamilton in Philadelphia where she will head a government transparency practice.

In 2006, Arneson joined the staff of Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R- Delaware County) as communications and policy director. There, he helped develop the Right-to-Know Law and the office of Office of Open Records.

Flickr user All Those Details

Five years ago, Pennsylvania’s open records law was changed with the promise of ensuring more information would be more easily available to the public.

Records requests have gone up, and the new law is seen, overall, as a positive for the commonwealth, but open records officials and some people who use the law see room for improvement. 

Before the change in the open records law, all records were presumed closed unless the requester could prove why they should be open. Now, with the new law, all records are presumed open unless the requestee can prove otherwise. This has resulted in a spike in requests from across the commonwealth.

A recent state court ruling is forcing the issue of transparency at one of Pennsylvania's four state-related universities.

Penn State, Pitt, Temple and Lincoln universities are largely exempt from the commonwealth's 5-year-old open records law providing public access to government information. It was for that very reason that the Office of Open Records dismissed an appealed records request filed by Ryan Bagwell.

90.5 WESA

Pennsylvania's open records law went into effect in 2009, ideally making it possible for citizens to easily search government records. But some say it hasn't made good on its promise of accessibility. WESA Capitol Correspondent Mary Wilson has written about tweaks to the law being proposed in the legislature, and those who have violated it.

Leah Samuel recently took an in depth look at the status of PA's open records law for PublicSource, including anecdotes from citizens who have been thwarted in their search for information.

Pennsylvania Office of Open Records Executive Director, Terry Mutchler says citizen requests should not be denied.

The head of the state's Office of Open Records is pointing a finger at public charter schools for being the "cancer" of the state's Right-to-Know law.

The testimony comes as lawmakers are in the midst of an effort to tweak the state's five-year-old law, which lets citizens request government records starting with the presumption that all such documents are public, putting the burden of proof on agencies, not citizens.