Right to Know Law Request Served on Venango County’s Tourism Promotion Agency and Lead Economic Development Agency
Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania
No. 2286 C.D. 2012
January 3, 2014
The Commonwealth Court held that the Oil Region Alliance of Business, Industry, and Tourism was not an agency and was not subject to the Right to Know Law.
Michael Hadley submitted a Right to Know Law request to the Oil Region Alliance of Business, Industry, and Tourism seeking the names and salary of the Alliance’s employees. The Alliance denied the request, stating that it was not an agency and was not subject to the jurisdiction of the RTKL.
Hadley appealed to the Office of Open Records. After reviewing the Alliance’s charter, by-laws, and submissions to the IRS, the OOR determined that the Alliance was a private nonprofit organization and was not subject to the jurisdiction of the RTKL.
On appeal, a county court of common pleas affirmed the decision of the OOR. Hadley then appealed to the Commonwealth Court.
Commonwealth Court Decision
The principal issue before the court was whether the Alliance was a local “agency.” Under the RTKL, a local agency is “any local, intergovernmental, regional or municipal agency, authority, council, board, commission or similar governmental entity.”
Hadley first argued that the Alliance should be considered an agency because it is an “industrial development agency” under the Industrial Development Authority Act.
The court, however, rejected this argument, explaining that the Alliance was not expressly created by the statute and the act’s definition makes clear that an “industrial development agency” can be a “nonprofit corporation or a foundation or association.” The act does not state that an “industrial development agency” carries out a government function, and the Alliance’s role does not confer it with “agency” status under the RTKL.
The court then considered whether the Alliance qualified as a local agency under the “or similar governmental entity” language of the definition.
The court held that the Alliance did not meet the criteria of a “similar government entity.” Specifically, the government does not control the Alliance’s operations; the Alliance does “not fulfill a core purpose of a government agency”; and the Alliance is funded primarily through private contributions.
In addition, the Alliance has no contract with a Commonwealth or local agency to perform a government function, and, thus, it also can not be deemed a government contractor subject to the law.