Right-to-Know Law has opened the doors to what has too often been a closed government. Not only does the law create a presumption that all government records are public, but it establishes a statewide Office of Open Records for speedy appeals by those who think they've been unfairly denied access. This new law has undeniably been useful to reporters and bloggers interested in casting a public spotlight on what is happening. But at least one citizen is using it as a tool to harass smaller governments. The law provides no remedy for vindictive requests.
Local governments may feel annoyed, but there have been relatively few appeals in Northampton County (14), Lehigh County (23), Allentown (38), Bethlehem (34) and Easton (10).
But tiny West Easton Borough, whose 2010 census was just 1,257 people, has handled 40 open records appeals, more than Allentown.
Reason? Tricia Mezzacappa. The Gladys Kravitz of West Easton, she has filed 39 Right-to-Know appeals under her own name. She filed another as "Concerned Citizens of West Easton," using her mother's address.
You could say this must mean that West Easton is a closed government that likes to operate in secret. But if that were so, wouldn't there be other appeals by other people?
Mezzacappa has won just four of these appeals.
When a small government like that is tied up with so many appeals, it is hard to imagine it has time for anything else, including government.
According to Mezzacappa herself, she was ejected from Monday night's West Easton Borough Council meeting by Easton police. "And dragged she was...physically abused, and accused of drinking in public (laugh), and threatened with a disorderly conduct charge, [and] tossed out of the meeting by Officer Siegfried of EPD."
In a mass email to West Easton Borough Solicitor Christine Schlottman, Mezzacappa warns, "Congratulations, you have successfully added more fuel to the fire. I will now be returning to each and every meeting, camera ready, and will be recording, as you stand by and allow my government through you, to violate my constitutional rights. I have known many lawyers who will do anything for a buck, but you take the cake. What a disgrace."
In a letter to The Express Times, in which she basically defends the Ross Township massacre by a crazed gunman angry at Township officials, Mezzacappa hints at her own situation. "West Easton seems to mirror the exact predicament of Newell in Ross Township. I thank the Lord that I have had the patience to continue putting up with this tyranny."
It is nuts like Mezzacappa that give nuts like me a bad name. Her abuse of the Right-to-Know Law is just what state legislators need to close those doors shut.