Allentown fights open records ruling

By Tim Darragh | OF THE (Allentown) MORNING CALL

Allentown officials are appealing an administrative ruling ordering the city to provide the e-mails and records of daily schedules for Mayor Ed Pawlowski and two Cabinet members to a reporter from The Morning Call.

City Solicitor Jerry A. Snyder Thursday filed a motion asking the state Office of Open Records to reconsider a December ruling in which it ordered the city to provide the records sought by reporter Jarrett Renshaw.

The city also is asking appeals officer Lucinda Glinn to recuse herself from the case, arguing that her former employment at a firm that did media law work focusing on Right To Know issues ''suggests bias.''

''The administrative arbiter of the disputes should have absolutely no appearance of ties to either party,'' Snyder said Friday.

At issue is not whether the records are public information, but in what form they should be provided and whether the city can charge copying fees for them.

Renshaw filed two public records requests on Oct. 30, citing the then-10-month-old state Right to Know law. In them, he asked for the daily schedule from Jan. 1-Oct. 30 for Pawlowski, Community and Economic Department Director Joyce Marin and Managing Director Ken Bennington, as well as Pawlowski's contact list. Renshaw sought access to e-mails sent from their city accounts in the second request.

Renshaw asked to see the records in their electronic format.

The city, however, said it likely would have to black out or ''redact'' some nonpublic information. That, it said, would require officials to print out the materials and manually remove the information. Public agencies can charge up to a quarter per page for copying and it estimated that copying charges would be ''in excess of $350.'' Additionally, Pennsylvania's Right To Know law allows agencies to require prepayment of copying fees when costs exceed $100, so the city refused to act on the requests until it received payment.

Renshaw appealed to the Office of Open Records. Glinn on Dec. 23 ruled that the city did not show that materials required redaction. She also wrote, ''The city may only charge for the redacted pages containing the specifically exempted information if the requester agrees to receive paper copies since he was explicit in seeking electronic copies only.''

Renshaw vs. City_of_Allentown AP 2009-1013

Snyder then filed the latest motion, arguing that Glinn asserted a number of legal errors. Among other complaints, Snyder said that the city would be forced to divulge protected executive information if it were required to show why the records need to be redacted.

Under the new law, a ''final determination'' is binding, but can be appealed to county court.

However, Open Records Deputy Director Barry Fox said the office has reconsidered its final determinations twice in 2009, its first year of operation. A decision on whether to reconsider the city's request should come in about 30 days, he said.

The office's director, Terry Mutchler, and its chief counsel, Corinna V. Wilson, will make the determination on Allentown's request to remove Glinn from the case, as well as future matters involving the newspaper and the city.

Like Glinn, both of them have media law backgrounds. Before becoming a lawyer, Mutchler was a reporter at The Morning Call and The Associated Press.

Fox said their backgrounds will not prejudice their decision.

''As we frequently say, we don't care who the requester is here or who the agency is,'' Fox said. ''Our staff has been very fair.''