Wolf puts on hold search for open records head amid lawsuit

Associated Press

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) – 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.”

Lawyers for the attorney general’s office, which represents Wolf and the Department of Community and Economic Development in the case brought by Erik Arneson and the state Senate Republican caucus against the Democratic governor, said the judges would be amending the Right-to-Know Law if they protect Arneson from being removed by Wolf.

“Principles of separation of powers require that the General Assembly act by statute, not the courts by decree, to override the power that the constitution accords to the governor to remove gubernatorial appointees at his pleasure,” Wolf’s lawyers argued.

Another new filing, by the Office of Open Records, which is the third defendant, argued that the court should remove it from the case.

“The issue in this case is concerned solely with the right and power of Gov. Wolf to remove the executive director of the OOR,” the agency said.

Wolf fired Arneson shortly after taking over from Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, who had named Arneson to the job in mid-January.

In their filings, Arneson and the Republican caucus said the Legislature intended in a 2009 rewrite of the Right-to-Know Law, which created the office and its director, to make them independent of the governor.

“The Legislature did not at once intend to transfer quasi-judicial powers and authority from the executive branch to the Office of Open Records for the purposes of creating a truly unique … independent administrative agency, while at the same time leaving the leader of that independent body subject to the mercy and whims of the governor,” wrote lawyers for Arneson and the Senate Republicans.

The court has to decide whether Arneson worked at the governor’s pleasure, or if he could only be removed for misconduct before the end of the job’s six-year term. He is seeking his job back and in the meantime has returned to work in the Senate GOP. A hearing is scheduled for March 11.

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