Pennsylvania's opaque state of transparency
By Brad Bumsted
Published: Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Pennsylvania government has been named one of the five most transparent in the country, according to Sunshine Review's “2013 Transparency Report Card.” Given the reality, that's a shocker.
In addition to the Keystone State, the Chesterfield, Va., group also lauds California, Illinois, Maryland and Washington. The rankings are based on state websites.
Never mind that the availability of government records is not very good.
There is a new state website — PennWatch — which lists various categories of state spending and salaries. But the salaries are not posted in a user-friendly fashion. You have to know who you are looking for or call up agency employees page by page. It's quite cumbersome and incomplete.
Legislative per diems are not included. Neither is there any information about legislators' expenses.
Equally problematic is the Department of State's “new and improved” website for searching individual campaign contributions. It's worse than before.
And while the state's Right to Know law website is an improvement over the previous (hideous) version, it is plagued by two problems. First, if you don't know the exact name of the record you seek, “No record exists” frequently is the site's response. The second problem is the 30-day legal review. Under the law, a response is due in five days. But agencies routinely take the extra 30 days for a legal review or other issues, such as staff limitations. That means the information, if you get it all, might not be available for 35 days.
The Trib recently requested certain legislative expense records from the House and Senate. To its credit, the House provided the information within five days. But the Senate said it was taking additional time to decide whether to release the exact same type of records.
In a review of Right to Know cases to be decided by the appellate courts, the Nauman Smith law firm of Harrisburg, which handles First Amendment issues, cited some of the upcoming cases. Attorneys Craig J. Staudenmaier and Joshua D. Bonn write of a case in which Associated Press reporter Marc Levy was denied the opportunity to review invoices for legal services submitted by individual senators. One was former Senate Democratic Leader Robert Mellow, now serving 16 months in prison for conspiracy.
The Senate denies taxpayers a full accounting of the legal bills for which they paid.
Lawmakers accused of crimes receive state-paid legal help from outside law firms until they are formally charged. This is not an obscure point — eight legislative leaders have been convicted of crimes over the last five years.
In another case that will be re-argued in two weeks before Commonwealth Court, Associated Press reporter Mark Scolforo sought Gov. Tom Corbett's calendar and emails. The main issue is redacted calendars. Corbett sued Scolforo after he won a round with the Office of Open Records.
Pennsylvania supposedly is a Top 5 “transparent” state. Yet it features troublesome websites and a Right to Know law resembling a hunk of Swiss cheese.
Brad Bumsted is the state Capitol reporter for Trib Total Media (717-787-1405 or firstname.lastname@example.org).
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Greensburg woman accused of assaulting nurse in Excela Health Westmoreland Hospital
- Penguins stave off Ducks’ shooting barrage to win in shootout
- Trade to Penguins caps frenetic period for winger Stempniak
- Penguins notebook: Maatta leaves lasting impression with Selanne
- Penn State trustee resigns, regrets Paterno vote
- East Hills brawl involves 50 people, nets at least 1 arrest
- 12 local wrestlers advance to PIAA Class AAA finals
- Club helps members speak up
- Steelers restructure Brown’s contract to become salary cap compliant
- Zelienople pastry shop has been sweet retreat for 4 decades
- Minorities crucial to filling Marcellus shale gas drilling jobs