Celebrating 10 years of open records in Pa.

It was not that long ago that Pennsylvania - which I sometimes less than lovingly refer to as the Land of Giants - offered a middle finger to those seeking public records.

Believe it or not, the law in the Keystone State assumed that most state and municipal government records were presumed secret, and it was up to citizens to explain why that should not be the case.

A decade ago that was changed with the passage of the Pennsylvania Open Record/Right-to-Know Law.

The law was pushed by then Delaware County state Senator (and now Delaware County Judge) Dominic Pileggi, R-9 of Chester. It rightly took that notion and stood it on its head. It put the onus on state and government officials to explain why a document should not be public.

And for good reason.

After all, in almost all these matters, it's YOUR money they are talking about.

This morning I will take part in a special panel commemorating the 10-year anniversary of the law. Pileggi will be on hand, as will former Gov. Ed Rendell, who signed the bill into law.

The program is being presented by Neumann University’s Center for Leadership and will explore the impact of the law.

The program will feature panel discussions with Rendell and Pileggi, who was then Republican Senate Majority Leader, as well as news reporters from Harrisburg and Philadelphia, and representatives of local government associations, as well as presentations Erik Arneson, executive director of the Office of Open Records, and staff from the Pennsylvania Legislative Budget and Finance Committee.

The event, which is free and open to the public, will take place in the Meagher Theatre located in the Thomas A. Bruder, Jr. Life Center on the Neumann University campus.

Rendell and Pileggi will discuss the history of the law, which flipped the presumption that government documents were not public information on its head. Prior to the adoption of the law, the burden was on the requester to establish why a government record should be public. Under the Open Records law, the burden is now on state and local agencies to establish why a record should not be released.

A media panel will provide views from the fourth estate on the positive impacts of the right to know law. In addition to me, the will be moderated by John Baer, political columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News. Other panelists will include Kristen Johanson, reporter for KYW Newsradio; Joe Conti, president of the Pennsylvania Association of Broadcasters; and Melissa Melewsky, legal counsel for the Pennsylvania News Media Association.

Staff members for the Pennsylvania Legislative Budget and Finance Committee, Executive Director Patricia Berger and Analyst Louis Day, will provide an overview of a recent state report examining the financial impact of the law.

An additional panel of representatives of local governmental entities will share information on their experience with the law, including possible misuse of the law. Panelists will include Doug Hill, Executive Director of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania; Elam Herr, Assistant Executive Director of the PA State Association of Township Supervisors, and Frank Catania, Esq., who has served as a solicitor for local governments and school districts. The panel will be moderated by Danielle McNichol, General Counsel for Neumann University and director of the Center for Community Leadership Development & Entrepreneurship.

Finally, Erik Arneson, Executive Director of the Office of Open Records, will provide information on some of the key rulings from the Pennsylvania Open Records Office, as well as an update on foreseen improvements to the state’s open records law.