Thursday, August 28, 2008

Government secrecy continues in PA

Pennsylvania's new open-records law can't get here soon enough.

The new law, which establishes and Office of Open Records to police government agencies, begins Jan. 1, 2009. Under the new law, all government documents (with the exception of specific items excluded under the statute) are assumed to be open for public inspection. It will up to the government agencies to prove the information should not be made available to the public.

In the meantime, officials continue to obstruct the public's access to public records.

A good example of how the taxpayers are being kept in the dark by politicians and bureaucrats occurred in Pottstown.

From a story by reporter Evan Brandt in The Mercury:
Despite the Pottstown Borough Authority's unanimous vote at a public meeting to approve a contract to treat Pottstown Landfill's leachate at a publicly-owned sewer plant, the terms of that agreement are not for the public to know — at least not right away.

That was the legal opinion offered last week by David Garner, the solicitor for the authority as well as the president of Pottstown Borough Council.

Garner said because the agreement is among three parties, the borough, the authority and Waste Management, the document does not become a "public document" until Borough Council has voted on it and signed it.

But that argument doesn't carry much weight with Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel for the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association and an expert on the state's Right to Know Law.

She said because the Borough Authority is a public agency under the law, the contract with Waste Management became a public document as soon as it was authorized by the board.

"When they take action, it's a public document as it pertains to that authority, no matter whether or not the borough has taken action yet," she said. "They've taken an affirmative vote and they've committed to a course of action and that is the public's business."

She said Garner's dual role as authority solicitor and Borough Council president may be blurring the lines.
Read the full story at the newspaper's Web site.

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