Recent Firing Poses Threat to Mission, Meaning of Records Office
NOTE: The Pennsylvania Freedom of Information Coalition Board of Directors today issued a unanimous statement protesting the characterization of the executive director position as “at will,” pointing out that such an interpretation subverts the critical independent nature of that office. We have asked Governor Wolf to rescind Erik Arneson’s termination.You can read our statement here and we hope that this unfortunate matter will be resolved quickly.
Pennsylvania Freedom of Information Coalition
HARRISBURG, Pa. (January 26) – This statement is issued unanimously by the board of directors of the Pennsylvania Freedom of Information Coalition in reaction to the termination on January 22 of Erik Arneson, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records:
“The Pennsylvania Freedom of Information Coalition believes that the position of executive director of the Office of Open Records is not one that can be terminated at will. Certainly the executive director can be removed for cause as that phrase has been legally determined by the Pennsylvania courts. But to advocate for an interpretation that the head of an agency charged with ruling on the public nature of executive branch records serves at the pleasure of the Governor subverts the critical independent nature of that office.
“Governor Wolf should reconsider his decision to terminate Erik Arneson. If the OOR executive director can be removed for any reason at any time, what will stop the next governor (or even this one later in his term) from removing him or her on the basis of a ruling of that office? An interpretation like this will turn the Office of Open Records from an independent arbiter of the Right-to-Know law into an adjunct agency of the governor’s office, one with no real authority.
“Governor Corbett’s legal, but poorly timed, 11th-hour appointment does not provide justification for Governor Wolf’s first-hour firing of an admittedly competent director, an action that threatens the vital independence of the Office of Open Records.
“Arneson, former executive director Terry Mutchler and Interim Executive Director Nathan Byerly all have the experience and skills to hold this position. Our strenuous objection is not about the individuals but rather the long-term and negative impact Wolf’s attempt to change the process will have on the integrity of the Office of Open Records, and by extension, on Pennsylvanians’ right to access the records of their government.”
The PaFOIC is part of a national network of more than 50 similar organizations that work to promote government transparency. Its goal is to preserve and improve access to all aspects of government, to achieve judicial recognition of a presumption of access in the law, to fund and implement grassroots and educational access efforts, to educate government officials in the need for access and to participate in efforts to improve and enforce legislation to ensure the fullest possible access to government.