Last week, the state’s Office of Open Records (OOR) found Chester City guilty for its lack of compliance for requested public information under the Right-To-Know Law (RTKL), as a result of an appeal filed by The Spirit.
The appeal came as a result of requests for information that went unanswered by the city for financial records for the budget, salary ordinances, and lists of expenditures that span as far back as Dec. 2016.
Under the RTKL, government agencies have five business days to respond to requested information, in writing. If needed, agencies can be granted a 30-day extension after notifying the requester, in writing within five business days, that it needs more time to gather the information requested.
The state’s three page ruling, issued last Wednesday, declared that the city, “did not comply with the RTKL by timely responding to the request, nor did the city provide any factual or legal support for denying access to the requested records on appeal.”
Tasked with the burden of proof, the city was expected to cite Section 708 or the RTKL’s exemptions for grounds supporting its consecutive lack of responses, which are “deemed denied,” according to the OOR. Ultimately the city failed to provide evidence for those denials in its counter-argument against The Spirit’s appeal.
The state ruled that the city’s initial argument that it “verbally notified the requester that it would require additional time to process the request,” was “not a sufficient extension notice…” under the law.
Summarizing its reasons for finding the city at fault, the OOR wrote, “Based on the city’s failure to comply with the statutory requirements of the RTKL or to provide any evidentiary basis in support under the exemption under the RTKL, the city has not met its burden of proof.”
As a result, the OOR granted The Spirit’s appeal, which also compels the city “to provide unredacted copies of all responsive records within 30 days” from the time the state issued its final determination.
This appeal (Docket Number: AP 2017-0053) is now public record and viewable at openrecords.pa.gov.