State to CF: Transparency Denied

A couple months ago, we requested the salary information of state employees for our new openPAgov database (if you missed the launch, we currently have Pennsylvania school district payroll, spending, performance, and property tax information online). The state sent us the information, as it is covered under the Right to Know law, but in a PDF format, even though the data were clearly printed from a spreadsheet.

When we requested the information in its original format, government officials replied they had fulfilled their legal obligation under the current law. We appealed the ruling and our appeal was rejected, you can read the rejection letter below, based on a court ruling that it “leave[s] to the discretion of the agency the manner it chooses to release [the information]”. Thankfully our poor intern wasn’t saddled with the redious task of entering all the salary information into a spreadsheet, as we’ve got some tech savvy people making the conversion– for a fee, of course.

But things may be changing. State Senator Dominic Pileggi (R) is working to pass legislation to address this and other procedural issues in the two year old Open Records law. Among the provisions is a new requirement that agencies provide information in the medium and the format it was requested, unless the information does not exist in that format. In other words, if there is a spreadsheet, state agencies have to share that spreadsheet. Other changes include:

  • Restricting info requests to the financial information of private government contractors,
  • Allowing any document presented at a public meeting to be requested,
  • Narrowing the exemption of non-criminal investigation records,
  • Changes in response deadlines for snail mail requests and appeals,
  • And the ability to request info from the head of the Agency as well as the Open Records Officer.

Of course, all of this could have been avoided with the passage of HB 1880, which would put all state spending online in database form for anyone to see, including state payroll information.

Payroll Right to Know Rejection