Pa. Society of News Editors weighs in on Office of Open Records dispute

From the Pennsylvania Society of News Editors

HARRISBURG, Pa. (January 29, 2015) — The Pennsylvania Society of News Editors is disappointed in Gov. Tom Wolf’s attempt to dismiss the executive director of the Office of Open Records.

This firing, if carried out, would transform the Open Records office from an independent watchdog to an administration adjunct, serving at the will of the governor.

The action, tinged with the back-and-forth accusations of partisan politics, conflicts with the governor’s promise to be “a different kind of governor,” apart from traditional politics, committed to open government.

In past statements, the governor has spoken in unambiguous terms about his desire “to make Pennsylvania a national leader in transparency and accountability in politics.”

He has promised ethical reforms so that Pennsylvanians could “trust that their government is doing the right things for the right reasons.”

But the firing of any Open Records chief without cause would subvert the independence of that office and undermine the peoples’ trust. The governor would be doing the wrong thing for no good reason.

We urge the governor to reconsider his action and stick to his commitment, stated in his inaugural address, to listen, learn and work with other leaders, without regard to party.

If the governor chooses to defend the dismissal in court, we urge both sides and the court to act swiftly. This important office, which oversees policies guaranteeing citizens’ rights to public records, should not go leaderless during a protracted court battle.

We hold the hope that the judiciary will follow the intent of the law and rule in favor of an independent Office of Open Records. Should it rule otherwise, we urge the Legislature to amend the existing law to state explicitly that this office is independent and not one answering to the commands of any administration.