“Katie McGinty’s official government emails have been hidden by her political friends in the Wolf Administration for nearly thirteen months and counting. Taxpayers have a right to know what Katie McGinty was doing while they were paying her salary, especially given her push for huge middle-class tax hikes and her history of cashing in on the revolving door between government and corporations. The Office of Open Records has said these emails should be released, so the Wolf administration needs to stop stalling.” – PA GOP Communications Director Megan Sweeney
PA GOP Continues to Wait for McGinty Emails
Allentown Morning Call
August 7, 2016
No one will be surprised to hear that politics can often interfere with government and cost taxpayers money, and here’s more proof that it does.
The state Republican Party has been trying for more than a year to get emails and work schedule information from Katie McGinty’s tenure as chief of staff for Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf.
McGinty is the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate against Republican incumbent Pat Toomey. There’s no doubt why the GOP wants her records — it’s digging for dirt in the close campaign.
It sought McGinty’s records under the state’s Right-to-Know Law last July. The ongoing legal battle already has cost taxpayers an undetermined amount of money through staff time at the governor’s office and the state Office of Open Records. And the tab is still open.
The governor’s office released some emails and schedule listings. It withheld or redacted others, saying they were not related to government activity or were exempt from release. The person who requested the records, state GOP deputy communications director Paul Engelkemier, appealed to the open records office seeking access to more documents.
In separate decisions in December and April, the office ruled in his favor and ordered the governor’s office to release additional emails and schedule listings.
The governor’s office did not release more records. Instead, it appealed to Commonwealth Court, where the cases are pending.
Republicans say Wolf’s Democratic administration is protecting his endorsed candidate and trying to extend the cases until the election passes.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Megan Sweeney, communications director for state Republicans. “It’s over a year now.”
But under the Right-to-Know Law, when government agencies receive requests for records, they are not allowed to consider why the records are being sought and how they might be used.
I’m not taking sides here, but as someone who relies on the Right-to-Know process working, it should run more smoothly than this.
I get the governor’s office withholding stuff about McGinty’s personal life. But I don’t think it should be withholding much involving her work as chief of staff. The law allows some records to be withheld, but it also says they can be released if they are in the “public interest.”
In his appeal to the Office of Open Records, Engelkemier said his request was sufficient because when the governor’s office asked, he narrowed it to seek only emails related to 109 individuals or topics.
They included the governor, president and other state, local and federal politicians, candidates and officials. Among the names were state Sen. Pat Browne, R-Lehigh, and Mike Fleck, the former political consultant who has pleaded guilty in the FBI’s “pay-to-play” investigation of Allentown government.
Engelkemier also sought emails about topics such as “Cape Cod,” “retreat,” “school funding,” “marijuana,” “pension reform” and “Senate Republicans.”
His appeal said the governor’s office told him it had identified 465 pages as “responsive” to his request. It claimed 264 were exempt from release, meaning 201 could be released. But Engelkemier said he received only 71 pages.
In December, the Office of Open Records ruled his request was sufficient and that while some emails could be withheld, the governor’s office hadn’t proven others could be.
In its appeal to Commonwealth Court, the governor’s office said the Office of Open Records “neglected to consider all evidence” submitted. It argued there was proof that some emails dealt with pending budget and employment decisions that were not final actions and therefore not public records.
The governor’s office said it released all entries on McGinty’s work schedule except for personal appointments and entries that were exempt from release for personal security, attorney-client privilege or other allowable reasons.
The Office of Open Records determined that some were withheld appropriately, but that some were public records that should be released.
I was unsuccessful in determining how much this political drama has cost taxpayers, as the governor’s office and Office of Open Records couldn’t provide dollar figures. But everyone seems to agree that it has kept state employees busy.
Sheridan said the matter “took dozens of hours” at the governor’s office. At the Office of Open Records, the cases required an above average workload and were “more time-consuming” than most, Executive Director Erik Arneson said.