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Right to Know: A welcome rebuke

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Saturday, June 28, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
 

A commonsense Commonwealth Court ruling ensures that the state's Office of Open Records can do its job. But the fact that this case was brought at all indicates how far Pennsylvania still has to go to guarantee government transparency.

Activist Beverly Schenck, a former supervisor in Center, Butler County, filed an open records request seeking invoices for that township's solicitor. Center provided invoice copies — minus key figures. Ms. Schenck appealed to the Office of Open Records for a confidential hearing by a judge who would review the invoices and decide whether they should be made public.

The township refused to provide the invoices to the office, contending they were exempt from public release on grounds of attorney-client and attorney-work product privilege and the office didn't have authority to demand them. But a Commonwealth Court panel ruled that the Office of Open Records indeed has that authority under the Right to Know Law.

Ruling otherwise would have hamstrung the Office of Open Records, which has to be able to examine documents in question to decide such issues. Sadly, though, the township's stance shows that some government officials persist in absurdly believing that the public has no business knowing the public's business.

Only when that arrogant, government-knows-best mindset is replaced by one with proper regard for the public's right to know will Pennsylvania truly approach the level of government transparency its citizens and taxpayers deserve.

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