Court's ruling that Corbett's calendar should be released puts Ravenstahl schedule under scrutiny
By Bobby Kerlik
Published: Tuesday, April 23, 2013, 6:18 p.m.
A state appeals court ruled on Tuesday that Gov. Tom Corbett's public calendar should be turned over to the press without redactions, a decision that could affect Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's attempts to keep his calendar secret.
Nils Frederiksen, spokesman for the Governor's Office of General Counsel, said Corbett's office will not appeal.
The seven-member Commonwealth Court panel unanimously upheld a decision by the state Office of Open Records ruling that the governor's office must turn over requested calendar entries and emails without redacting portions that it claimed are protected by exceptions to the state's Right to Know Law.
Ravenstahl's office denied multiple requests to release his calendar, including as recently as last week. In 2009, the mayor's office denied a request from the Tribune-Review under the revised Right to Know Law seeking his calendar.
Ravenstahl's spokeswoman, Marissa Doyle, said the city's solicitor is reviewing the decision. She did not respond to questions about whether the mayor would release his calendar.
University of Pittsburgh law professor John Burkoff called the court's decision “a pretty dramatic ruling.”
“The court didn't say that political officials have to turn over everything when they are faced with a lawful right-to-know request. But the court did say that public officials have got to make a specific justification for why any particular calendar entry or email requested should be kept private.
“It's hard to believe that much — if any — of Mayor Ravenstahl's schedule can be kept private using this test,” Burkoff said.
Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel for the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, said a footnote in the ruling could prevent the release of other officials' calendars. It points to another Commonwealth Court decision that allowed Philadelphia's mayor and council to keep their calendars private because they are “working papers.”
Ravenstahl's office also claimed the working papers exemption when it denied the Trib's 2009 request.
“The governor's office didn't cite the working papers exception. I think it can have an effect, but I don't know if it will because of the competing precedent,” Melewsky said. “It's important to know who our public officials are meeting with because oftentimes meetings are the genesis for public policies.”
The Associated Press sought records covering an 18-day period shortly after Corbett took office in 2011. The governor's office provided some records but blacked out 17 emails and 28 calendar entries.
Frederiksen said the ruling clarifies what's privileged information.
“The court made it clear that calendar entries can be protected in situations involving the deliberative process and emphasized that the nature of these entries should be carefully considered when deciding whether some information can be redacted,” he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Bobby Kerlik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7886 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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