Finding out how much Pennsylvania pays a corrections officer or the contractor who built a bridge near your home is not always as easy as some say it should be, but Gov. Tom Corbett is hoping the launch of a new website will help.
Corbett said the website, PennWATCH, will make it easier for the public to learn about the budgets of state agencies, how much they are spending, and whom they are paying. They’ll also have an easier time finding out how many people are employed by state agencies and what they are paid.
“Openness is important to government. It creates trust between the citizens and the government,” he said. “Hopefully, it prevents scandal.”
The address for the website is www.pennwatch.pa.gov.
While Pennsylvania’s reputation as an open records state has improved since then-Gov. Ed Rendell established the Office of Open Records and named Terry Mutchler its executive director, it has not been without its critics and disputes.
For example, the administration is now trying to defend its decision in Commonwealth Court to not provide Corbett’s daily schedule to the Associated Press. The court has scheduled a re-hearing on the matter for February in Philadelphia.
But Mutchler is publicly saying PennWATCH is a good innovation.
“This new tool, in conjunction with the Right to Know Law, gives citizens greater access to their government’s records. That’s exactly what the General Assembly intended: greater accountability and transparency,” Mutchler said in Corbett’s press release.
Before the debut of PennWATCH, anyone wanting to see a public record has had to submit a written Right To Know request with a state agency’s RTK officer. That officer has a set amount of days to respond to the request if the information is not immediately provided. The officer then has a period of time after that to produce the information.
All state government records are deemed to be public unless disclosure is barred by law, regulation or judicial order; is under attorney-client or doctor-patient privilege; or meets one of the law’s exceptions.
Disputes go to Mutchler’s office.
Two Republican lawmakers wrote the legislation to make PennWATCH possible and called the website’s appearance a good thing.
“I think the leadership in the House has shown that we are committed to changing the way business is being done in Harrisburg,” said Rep. Jim Christiana, R-15.
“It’s a new day for accountability and transparency in Pennsylvania,” said Sen. Pat Browne, R-16.
People will not be able to go to the website to learn how lawmakers are spending their tax dollars. They’ll have to continue submitting written RTK requests unless lawmakers voluntarily post their spending online, which Christiana said he does under his homepage link, “legislative expenses.”
Some state employees will be able to opt out of turning up as a result in a PennWATCH search if they are part of a protection from abuse, or PFA, order, work as a state trooper, or are agents of the state attorney general’s office.
Corbett said he thinks the presence of PennWATCH will eliminate half of all Right To Know requests.
Read more: http://www.phillyburbs.com/news/local/the_intelligencer_news/in-attempt-to-become-more-transparent-pa-launches-public-records/article_2c70d5ac-616b-504d-8174-00ecc2b386a7.html