Presentation to Public Utility Commission CLE

Open records_logo stackedLast Thursday, I took part in a panel discussion at a CLE organized by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission. We discussed a number of issues related to the Right-to-Know Law and the Office of Open Records.

Among the issues covered were the OOR’s Final Determinations in two cases (both captioned David Hommrich and Sunrise Energy LLC v. Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission), 2016-2010 and 2017-0079. The PUC has appealed both cases to Commonwealth Court.

It was a great discussion, and I very much appreciate the invitation.

Here’s the presentation I used:

Public Utility Commission CLE – June 1, 2017 – PDF
Public Utility Commission CLE – June 1, 2017 – PPTX

830 Right-to-Know Requests to the OOR in 2016

In addition to deciding appeals filed under the Right-to-Know Law, the Office of Open Records processes hundreds of Right-to-Know requests every year. In 2016, we responded to 830 requests.

Most requests filed with the OOR are misdirected: The requester isn’t really seeking OOR records; rather, they want records from another agency but mistakenly file the request with the OOR.

Last year, about 91% of RTK requests filed with the OOR were misdirected. However, the OOR responds to every request, and for the misdirected ones, we try to point the requester to best agency.

75 of the requests we received in 2016 were for OOR records. These were typically for copies of Final Determinations, case files, salary information, OOR forms, and the OOR’s procedural guidelines.

119 Appeals Involving Agencies in Allegheny County

More Right-to-Know Law appeals were filed in 2016 involving local agencies in Allegheny County — including the county itself, school districts, municipalities, etc. — than in any other county.

This comes as little surprise, since Allegheny County is home to about 130 municipalities and more than 40 school districts.

The top five counties by this measure were Allegheny (119), Montgomery (76), Philadelphia (70), Luzerne (64), and Bucks (60).

Local Appeals by County - 2016 Annual Report

The map below examines — in as fair a way as we’ve been able to develop — the relative impact of RTKL appeals on all of the agencies within each of Pennsylvania’s counties.

Still, it’s important to remember that a relatively small number of appeals filed involving agencies within a small county (Clarion County has about 40,000 residents) can make the impact look more significant than it really is.

Local Appeals by County (Per Capita) - 2016 Annual Report

Note: These maps illustrate workload; the data doesn’t necessarily correlate to the quality of agency responses to Right-to-Know requests within a given county. There are many factors to consider in evaluating agency responses and determining why a given number of appeals were filed. For example, it’s quite possible that one or two incidents could spike the number of requests (and potentially appeals) at a given local agency. Also, larger population areas tend to have more requests filed, often with more nuanced issues involved. It’s also useful to remember that the Office of Open Records has no way of knowing how many appeals are simply granted by agencies. That data is not collected on a statewide basis.