June 10, 2015

Court: Arneson Should Be Reinstated As Open Records Director, Wolf To Appeal

Commonwealth Court ruled Wednesday in a 6 to 1 decision, that Erik Arneson should be reinstated to the position of Executive Director of the PA Office of Open Records.  Arneson was appointed to the office just prior to Gov. Corbett leaving office.  
Gov. Wolf’s Office said they would appeal the decision to the PA Supreme Court.
Calling it a good day for transparency and openness in government, Senate Republicans applauded a state Commonwealth Court decision that Gov. Wolf exceeded his powers in removing the director of the state’s Office of Open Records.
“Today the Court agreed with General Assembly’s vision when creating this law – that only through the independence of the office can we ensure that proper scrutiny can be given to government through its public records,” said Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R-Centre). “The decision will allow this important watchdog agency to continue in its role as an independent arbiter when citizens are denied access to government records.”
“The Court ruling issued today is a victory for the people of Pennsylvania and ensures transparency continues to exist in state government,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson). “We look forward to Erik Arneson’s return to actively serving as Executive Director of the Office of Open Records and continuing to oversee the independence of the office for the remainder of his six-year term.”
The Senate Republican Caucus filed a petition in January before Commonwealth Court to defend the integrity of a statute and protect the independence of the OOR. In its ruling the Court supported the Senate position saying: “The OOR is inherently independent from the Executive branch…the OOR’s predominate purpose is to serve as a quasi-judicial, independent agency that ‘is not subject to the policy supervision and control of the governor.’ ”
Saying the OOR executive director, an independent body, is “insulated from the Governor’s power to remove appointees at will,” the Court ordered Erik Arneson to be returned to the position with back pay.
Senate Republicans are optimistic that, once given the opportunity to review the ruling, the Governor will decide against a planned appeal.
“We are hopeful that the Governor will stop his efforts to dismantle the wall of independence between the Office of the Governor and the Office of Open Records.  We urge him not to continue wasting taxpayer money by appealing this decision,” Sen. Corman said.
Erik Arneson issued the following statement: “Today’s decision by the Commonwealth Court is a tremendous step forward for the Office of Open Records. My position has been consistent: The Office of Open Records must be truly independent in order for it to function as it was intended.
“I very much look forward to establishing a positive working relationship with Governor Wolf and his administration.
“I’m excited to return to work at the Office of Open Records. It’s an amazing team, and we are all passionate about the OOR’s mission: enforcing the Right-to-Know Law and serving as a resource for citizens, public officials, and members of the media in obtaining public records of their government.
“I thank my family, friends, co-workers, members of the public, and the media for the overwhelming support I received during this process.”
NewsClip: Court Orders Open Records Director Restored, Wolf Will Appeal