Board craps out on public disclosure
Government officials are nothing if not reliable. They can be counted on to prove, repeatedly, why Pennsylvania needs the strongest possible public disclosure laws.
Case in point: the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, which in 2009 converted a citizen's simple request for public information into a craps shoot by hiding behind what it perceived as a technicality that allowed secrecy.
Fortunately, the Commonwealth Court disabused the gambling authority of that notion this week.
The state Right to Know Law, which brought the commonwealth into the 21st century when it was passed belatedly in 2008, requires every public agency in Pennsylvania to designate an open-records officer to handle information requests from the public.
In 2009 an anti-gambling activist asked the board for records of communications between the board and applicants for a casino license that ultimately was awarded to a group for Valley Forge.
The board ignored the request.
Such arrogance among public officials is the reason that the Right to Know Law is so vital.
The board said it was not obliged to respond because the request was directed to a press aide rather than to the designated records officer, and because it did not state it was being filed under the Right to Know Law and was not on an official form.
Like all public agencies, however, the board is obliged to serve the public.
In a 4-3 decision, the court found that the Legislature had intended that local and state agencies should presume that any written requests for records are right-to-know requests.
Indeed. The question isn't whether a citizen has jumped through the appropriate hoops but whether the appropriate public servants choose to hide behind technical considerations of a law that exists for the very purpose of forcing transparency through public disclosure of records.
The Gaming Control Board, which has an even greater obligation for disclosure because of the nature of the business it regulates, should forgo any further appeal and embrace the opportunity to further government transparency.