State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Katie Meyer covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.

Open Records dustup goes to court

Written by Mary Wilson, Former Capitol Bureau Chief | Feb 3, 2015 6:46 PM

The dispute over whether Governor Tom Wolf is able to remove an appointed Office of Open Records director lands in Commonwealth Court Wednesday morning.

The state Senate GOP, which sued to have Erik Arneson restored as Office of Open Records director, says his removal violated the independence of the agency. The OOR decides appealed record requests.

The Office of Attorney General, arguing for the Wolf administration, says in its brief that state lawmakers have no standing in the case, arguing that the Senate Republican caucus "does not have oversight of OOR," and that "this lawsuit does not involve any conduct that impinges on a legislative function."

The OAG likens Arneson's complaint to a "garden-variety 'wrongful termination' claim." Its brief states that the Open Records director, as an appointee, serves at the pleasure of the governor, especially since the Right-to-Know Law which established the OOR is silent on how directors can be removed.

Nearly two weeks ago, Wolf removed Arneson as OOR director, expressing disapproval that the appointment had been made in the last days of former Governor Tom Corbett's term. Since then, Arneson has been reporting to the OOR daily and checking in with staff, who he says respect a power-sharing agreement he has with the agency's current acting director, Nathan Byerly.

Arneson said he has used borrowed office space, mostly in Senate Republican quarters, to work on plans for the OOR's website and testimony before state lawmakers during budget hearings.

The arrangement is mentioned in the attorney general's brief, which states that Arneson "farcically claims to do the business of the OOR."

"If this was some sort of farce, to use their words," said Arneson on Tuesday, "I don't think that I would have had as many meetings with members of the General Assembly as I've had, and I don't think that I would have gotten the kind of support for my position, and I understand that it is for the position I've taken, not necessarily for me as an individual."

Published in State House Sound Bites

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