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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Northampton County's Right Not to Know Law

When Pennsylvania adopted its new Right-to-Know Law in 2009, the whole point was to increase transparency in state and local government. Anything kept by the government would now be "presumed" a public record. Every local government, from West Easton Borough to Lehigh County, would designate someone to handle open records requests, which could be by letter, fax or even email. Requests would be answered within five days.

Sounds pretty impressive, doesn't it?

Reality and theory are two different things. In reality, some officials just don't want you to know what they're doing.

The first place they'll get you is with the Right-to-Know officer. Now, instead of asking for a copy of something, and getting it right away with no fuss, you have to fill out a form addressed to someone who has absolutely no interest in answering you. More often than not, nobody even knows who this person is.

How about looking at the municipal webpage? If there is one, Section 505 of the Right-to-Know Law specifically requires that the following information be posted:

(1) Contact information for the open-records officer.
(2) Contact information for the Office of Open Records or other applicable appeals officer.
(3) A form which may be used to file a request.
(4) Regulations, policies and procedures of the agency relating to this act.

Got that? Now go and take a gander at Northampton County's webpage. Do you see any of this information? I was unable to find it there. It's nonexistent on Bethlehem's webpage, too.

In Northampton County, there are separate Right-to-Know officers for Council, Administration and Court requests. The Home Rule Charter establishes the Controller's office as a independent elected official with the right to hire and fire his own staff, including his own solicitor. So he gets his own open record officer, too.

Not one of these officers is listed anywhere on the County webpage, in spite of a "How Do I ..." section.

Last year, when I filed a Right-to-Know request in Bethlehem, it took me longer to find out the appropriate officer (the Solicitor) than it did to fill out the form. Last week, when I submitted a Right-to-Know request to Controller Steve Barron, nobody knew if an officer has even been designated.

I ended up sending a copy to AFSCME, just to play it safe.

OK, so let's assume you've finally found the right person and have filled out the right form, you should get everything in five days. What's five days?

If you are following a fast-moving or complicated story, five days could make your information stale, or could lead to other information for which you must fill out another form and wait another five days.

Guess what? That five day requirement is really thirty days.

Under Section 902 of the Right-to-Know Law, the open records officer can take up to thirty days for "legal review" or other bullshit. Then, at the end of that thirty days, it can simply deny your request, citing one of 31 exceptions.

The state agency handling appeals is pretty good, but they can be ignored, too.

I went through this last year in Bethlehem, and waited several months for information that could have been handed to me the day I made my request.

Now, Controller Steve Barron is dragging his feet, too. On May 23, I filed a very specific request for Barron's correspondence with various union officials, Council members and the Gracedale crowd. Nobody knew the mysterious Right-to-Know officer. Turns out that it's Tim Brennan, Barron's Solicitor.

I've already received a thirty-day letter citing the need for legal review, redaction, giving Barron all the time he needs to scrub his computers and dance off in his kilt to the next union function.
Mea Culp, Mea Culpa, Mea Maxima Culpa. County Webpage Does list RTKL officers! I screwed up. On the right sidebar of the County webpage, there is a link to the Right-to-Know Law, listing right-to-know officers for criminal and non-criminal cases. But it is inaccurate. Frank Flisser, the Right-to-Know officer for Council matters, is not listed. Nor is Tim Brennan, the Right-to-Know officer for the Controller.

66 comments:

Anonymous said...

You are jealous of Barron because he spanked you and Angle.

Anonymous said...

Wears dresses; speaks with riotous lisp. Hey now.

Tricia Mezzacappa said...

I am very interested in the evolving RTK law. Since its inception, it has been revised dozens of times through case law throughout the commonwealth. The 5 to 30 day delay is a pain, and also needs to be revised.

I am not much for state mandates, but I think all local governments should be required to post on their websites such things as minutes, check registers, etc.

Basic information should not be subject to the 30 day delay. The OOR makes clear that a local government must have a reason for a 30 day delay. The key word is "basic".

Anonymous said...

What's up with the other gents, what did they do.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I think it's some secret Masonic lodge.

Anonymous said...

It's a wedding party.
What a blatant disregard for the facts in order to make a point.
Enjoy your little joke.

Bernie O'Hare said...

It was a kilt party.

Anonymous said...

How disrespectful to use a persons wedding photos for your meaningless political bullshit.

Anonymous said...

And what did you want to know that the other four guys didn't tell you? Or are they just collateral damage in your rush to snipe at Barron?

Anonymous said...

Political bullshit? Nah! He's out for Barron's blood. It's obviously personal.
What did the other guys do to be sneered at by smilin' Bernie? Is standing next to Barron at a wedding now reason enough to be mocked and ridiculed?

Anonymous said...

I hope Mr. Angle and Mr. Dent condemn the use of a young man's wedding photo for cheap slander . I'm sure they wouldn't like it if it was their family being made fun of in this way.

Anonymous said...

Bernie, is it open season on families now? Is it okay to ridicule a minor child, standing proudly as his cousin's groomsman, simply because another groomsman is someone you don't like?

This is a dangerous precedent, which no-one will thank you for, and let's hope it doesn't come back to bite your ass off.

Bernie O'Hare said...

If Barron is so offended about seeing this picture, he should have thought twice before publishing it. I find it interesting that you are more concerned about the kilt pic than you are about the right to know.

Anonymous said...

Are the men in the picture wearing "Chasity Belts?"

Bernie O'Hare said...

I don't think they need them.

Anonymous said...

@12:54 we take em off when we bang your old lady

Bernie O'Hare said...

"I hope Mr. Angle and Mr. Dent condemn the use of a young man's wedding photo for cheap slander"

It's libel, not slander. Slander is spoken. Get it right.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"we take em off when we bang your old lady"

Is that what Barron does?

Anonymous said...

Why post pics of the guys family?

Anonymous said...

Why the pics and derogatory remarks?

Anonymous said...

He hates Barron and doesn't care who else he hurts, that's why.

Anonymous said...

You should drink Bern , you would be funnier

Anonymous said...

@12.58

Is that a confession, or just an admission of guilt.

Anonymous said...

Funny, you didn't find any of Barron's children photos to exploit?

Anonymous said...

@12.50
Bernie, how do you know Barron is offended? Do tell!

I'm sure he is. Who wouldn't be. You've insulted his wife, and his entire extended family, and all their friends. You'll find you've galvanised people who didn't care about Steve Barron one way or the other into his strong supporters.

All the politicos, bureaucrats and hacks who figured it was easier to keep you sweet will now find that you're toxic and shut you out.
And all your pious pontificating about right-to-know, mea maxima culpa, becomes the sideshow. Your vitriol and ego got in the way of a perfectly legitimate argument.

I know I won't be alone in assuming qui tacet consentire videtur of our local representatives in the months and year to come.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I insulted no wife and no extended family. I republished a picture of Barron in his kilt, a picture that he himself published. I try to post Stevie in the kilt, and this was a pic I did not have until Barron published it himself.

If this was highly personal, then I'd suggest that Barron should not have splattered it on the 'net. As it is, I used it for my continued depiction of him in a kilt.

I don't really give a shit about your feigned indignation.

Anonymous said...

Wait, if it's available for your taking, it's your to republish?

Do you sit at a library ripping pages out of books and re-stapling them together as your own?

There is a word for this....

Bernie O'Hare said...

I don't think you can say it because you have trouble beyond two syllables.

If Barron splatters pictures on the Internet, they are free for the taking. If he's idiotic enough to keep publishing pics of himself in a kilt, I will be happy to take them.

There is nothing remotely illegal or even offensive about what I've done.

Anonymous said...

You troll his facebook to get pics?

Anonymous said...

You put pictures of people who wan't nothing to do with your or his bullshit on a blog. That's the problem.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Absolutely. It's what I do. What kind of bottom-feeding blogger would I be if I did not look at F/B posts? Lady MacBeth Pawlowski had lessons on how to build a mancave w/o permits. I learned how to toss salad w/ Tony Phillips.

And so on.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"You put pictures of people who wan't nothing to do with your or his bullshit on a blog. That's the problem."

Oh how horrible. Pictures of dudes in kilts. All very well dressed. They must be humiliated.

Anonymous said...

It is a secret society pic.

Anonymous said...

@5.28

Whose salad did you toss?

Anonymous said...

@ 1.03

Would you say that, under any circumstances, about Dent's wife, or Angle's wife? Of course not.

Anonymous said...

You troll his FB to get pics. How would you like it if someone did the same to you? Would you mind? Of course you would.

But you don't seem to get that this whole affair has nothing to do with the pic. Unfortunately, you have the right to republish it.

It's the hatred and vitriol aimed at a public rep raking four innocent bystanders and tarring them with whatever vile spew you were aiming at Barron. That's what's wrong, and that's what any decent person should stand up against.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"It's the hatred and vitriol aimed at a public rep raking four innocent bystanders and tarring them with whatever vile spew you were aiming at Barron."

Ok, Please point out where, in my post, the vile spew I am aiming at Barron. This is a post about the RTKL I stated Barron is dragging his feet, but I posted no vile spew about anybody, so you're pretty much out there.

Anonymous said...

@6.10

Okay, specimen case:

What has Barron's wife ever done to you? @1.03

Can't you have the decency to apologise for gratuitously including her in such vulgarity?

If you had a wife, she'd be offended. Any wife would be. It's bachelor party bullshit, which I'm sure you didn't think through before you posted.

Bernie O'Hare said...

OK, so we agree there is nothing on my post that is vile. Now in the comments, one of your buddies comments that you take your chastity belts off so you can bang our old ladies. Pretty vile stuff, eh. At 1:03, I simply ask if that is what you do, Mr. Barron. In other words, I want to know if you bang old ladies or other people's wives. Since either you or one of your lackeys posted a vile remark, my question is entirely appropriate.

The vile stuff is mostly coming from you.

No surprise.

Anonymous said...

Bernie,

Just an FYI, the link to all the information about a Right to Know Officer is on the City of Bethlehem webpage, all you have to do is click the about Bethlehem clip and there is a tab on the right side for the RIght to Know information. It even gives you a link to a form to request the information. It also gives you the information for the State Right to Know Office

Anonymous said...

What buddies?

At 6.34 you seem to imply that I am Barron. Earlier you say my indignation is feigned. WRONG ON BOTH COUNTS.
I am not Steve Barron, nor a representative of his, nor do I know who posted any posts save my own.
My indignation is very real. I have a dog in this race, and it isn't you or Barron.
I am digusted that you cannot see how you have upset so many people.
It would servre great purpose if you were on the other side of this conversation. then you might see. As you have schoolboy Latin (or is it altar boy Latin), you might do well to remember Horace's warning 'pede poena claudo'.

Anonymous said...

Now that the door is open, is Salverson's family fair game in November.
I know you'll be reporting it strictly down the middle, as you opened the door.

Anonymous said...

@5.12

Photoshop would have saved you all the shit that's coming your way.

Anonymous said...

Thumbuddy is wery, wery angwy. Maybe Barron should eat something to relax.

Bernie O'Hare said...

6:58, I'll check out what you're saying.

John Locke said...

Deus ex machina

Anonymous said...

6:58 City of Bethlehem does not name their Right to Know Officer. Another one of their deep dark secrets.

Bernie O'Hare said...

6:58, I'm working up another page about RTKL and municipal web page. I did find the Bethlehem information and will report it is there on that post and correct my error. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Was Northampton County annexed by Ireland? What is up with the kilts?

Anonymous said...

What a load of shit. Most of these posts read like the kind of tripe Barron goldbricking buddy Tim Brennan would type. You know the controller's solicitor.

So by Bernie doing this people are flocking to support Mr. Barron. Hell, since Barron is running for every office out there, he should be thrilled and send Bernie his thanks.

Enough with all the histrionics. Barron plasters his femmy image everywhere and you are angry when it is used in a joke.

Tell your boy that if he hopes to be a big boy elected official, he better grow a set because this is just the tip of the iceberg. After a lucky win a few years back, Barron is already measuring the windows in Stoffa's office and I hear in Boscola's office as well. Yes, State Senator Barron He is an ambitious little kilt wearing laddie.

Enough of your horseshit. Stop running interference for your charge. Practice your legal skills if you want to be county solicitor.

Keep up the good work Bernie. After all the screw ups and embarrassments this Barron has pulled, he should be paying you for the light hearted exposure.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Was Northampton County annexed by Ireland? What is up with the kilts?"

I think it's the damned Scots.

Anonymous said...

Barron is really thinking of a run against Lisa Boscola. He must be off his rocker. what an ego.

Anonymous said...

@11.56 is a complete asshole. Brennan didn't write the shit, tripe, or histrionics -I did.

It wasn't Barron's photo that was the problem, it was the snide remarks about the groom and the other groomsmen, and others of Barron's family. Barron is an elected official and has to take it. The others shouldn't. But what's sauce for the goose, as they say, is also sauce for the gander.

The posters who call him femmy or fat or lispy wouldn't say it to his face.

Why don't you all just say that he is running for President of the United Planetary Federtaion, and have done with it.

Some secret masonic lodge, a kilt party, chastity belts, Barron doing it to his wife, does Barron bang old ladies or other people's wives, damned Scots - and of course the tone of voice is present in all of them. Cheap, snide, and who gives a shit.

If Norco can be measured by the quality of its public discourse and its chattering classes, then might as well give the game up now.

Anonymous said...

Hey Brennan, How much do the Democrats pay you every month? How much does your job with Barron cost?

Anonymous said...

Hey 7:13 if you are measuring the quality of the elected officials in the county like Barron, i agree.

Easy there Timmy boy!

Anonymous said...

@6.34 it isn't one of my buddies

@7.13 who is Timmy Boy? Are you sure you aren't trying to get some communal singing going, in which case you probably meant Danny Boy.

@7.13 doesn't think that the posts are written by Brennan. That's what's so fiendishly clever about his plot. It's not a lie. It's some new fangled tactic called disinformation. What a clever Charlie he is.

@12.04 Bernie, is Barron Scottish? Do you hate Barron because you hate the Scots so much, sorry, the damned Scots?

@12.33 were you delighted with yourself when you came up with that one? Did you think 'how clever am I' and twirl around in front of the mirror? Betcha did!

Bernie O'Hare said...

I love Scots and Barron is not Scottish. I think he's Lutheran.

Anonymous said...

Hey Bernie, why do voters trust Barron as their controller. He is Irish like us. Hell, I wouldn't trust any of us with money.

Everyone knows we are good at two things, drinking and keeping our wives pregnant(when we aren't in church). God Bless the Holy Father.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Barron is not Irish. I think he's Vietnamese.

Anonymous said...

Now hold on 11:49, we are damn good at bullshit. I rate us tops out of Europe.

Anonymous said...

Lutheranism is a religion and Scottish is a nationality. Get it rght.

Anonymous said...

@11.49 and is that the view of your boy Dent as well? He should tell that to the voters? That's the sort of thing voters DO want to hear.

Anonymous said...

Bernie, I'm confused. Do you hate Barron BECAUSE he is Vietnamese?

I'm going to have to go get me some brain medicine. So we have Scottish, Irish, Vietnamese, Lutherans. You sure do befuddle the shit out of me.

Isn't there anyone you like?

Bernie O'Hare said...

I pretty much hate everyone, so that means I can't be a bigot. I'm pretty sure Barron is Canadian.

Anonymous said...

Canadian Bacon, that is!

Daniel said...

It is interesting that a grown man is resorting to playground tactics just to prove a political point. What's you're next post going to be? "Nanana poo poo steve is a stupid face" ?

interesting.