Just how open is the Office of Open Records?

    What if Newsworks announced we were giving out free cookies – then quietly stipulated that you had to run a marathon in a gorilla suit to get one?

    You have to read the fine print. The state of Pennsylvania did right in 2009 by passing a Right to Know law that made government documents more accessible, and creating an Office of Open Records to enforce it. Now, if a citizen requests a record and a government agency says no, she can appeal to the OOR to decide whether the record should be public.

    But this spring, a Commonwealth Court panel added some fine print. It ruled that any citizen appealing a denial has to cite and respond to each specific reason cited by an agency in rejecting the request.

    So if you ask City Council for salary information and it sends you back a letter with 10 different rationales for saying no, your appeal must include a response all 10 rationales.

    On this week’s It’s Our Money podcast, Doron Taussig and Juliana Reyes explain why this new rule is unnecessary, and will likely discourage people from following through with records requests. We also cook up a scam where we offer a great service, but add fine print that makes it hard to get.

    It’s Our Money” is a joint project between Philadelphia Daily News and WHYY, funded by the William Penn Foundation.

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