Update: DVRPC says it’s not covered by Right to Know Law

The Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission has asked a Pennsylvania appellate court to rule that it’s not covered under the state’s open records law.

The Pennsylvania Office of Open Records, which enforces the law, overturned an earlier Commonwealth Court ruling in July that had exempted the commission.

A hearing examiner at the office ruled that revisions to the Right to Know Law in 2009 had widened its scope to cover DVRPC. The law presumes that most government documents are public and must be released upon request.

The commission argues in a petition filed Sept. 6 that it isn’t covered under the law “because it serves only in an advisory capacity and performs no essential government functions.”

DVRPC is the metropolitan planning organization for the Philadelphia region and approves the disbursement of federal transportation dollars to area infrastructure projects.

The filing arose out of a series of contentious battles with the Pennsylvania Transit Expansion Coalition, or PA-TEC, an organization that was started to advocate for restored SEPTA regional rail service to Newtown. It has since become a critic of the region’s infrastructure spending policies and has blasted the commission’s public input process.

The group has filed a series of open records requests. DVRPC said that many of the documents asked for were exempt from disclosure, and the group filed several appeals with the Office of Open Records.

This filing arose out of a further appeal of an open records office decision to Commonwealth Court that a member of PA-TEC filed last month. PA-TEC has made several similar appeals.

This particular appeal centers around a request for e-mails between DVRPC officials and leaders of the Regional Citizens Committee, the commission’s public advisory group.

The office ordered that DVRPC turn over many of those e-mails but said that some were exempt because they represented “predecisional deliberations” ― a type of document exempted from disclosure. DVRPC turned over the documents it was ordered to, but PA-TEC is appealing that ruling and seeking the rest of the documents.

In a statement, PA-TEC spokesman John Scott, who filed the original request and the subsequent appeals, called the DVRPC’s filing “disturbing.”

“Secretive agencies aren’t very popular these days ― apparently DVRPC hasn’t gotten the message. We are confident we will prevail,” Scott said.

A DVRPC spokeswoman declined to comment on ongoing legal matters.

Contact the reporter at acampisi@planphilly.com

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