Television network news programs this week picked up on a bizarre incident in Beaver County on Jan. 14. They showed video taken from a police cruiser stolen by a shoplifting suspect....
Gov. Tom Wolf has an ambitious agenda he wants to enact and a Legislature chock-full of Republicans who might not be inclined to see things his way. Clearly, he needs to pick his fights carefully.
He did not do that when he decided, two days after his inauguration, to fire Erik Arneson as the executive director of the commonwealth’s Office of Open Records.
Admittedly, the fate of a relatively obscure state employee is not something that’s going to light up the phones or send most folks to the ramparts, so here’s a recap of how Arneson found himself suddenly jobless: Upon the long overdue creation of the Office of Open Records in 2008, Terry Mutchler, a former journalist and attorney, was appointed to be its executive director for a six-year term. When her term expired last April, then-Gov. Tom Corbett dragged his feet on whether Mutchler would be reappointed or whether the office would have a new executive director. After Corbett was defeated by Wolf in November, Corbett’s spokesman indicated that the appointment would be left to Wolf.
However, in an about-face, just one week before leaving office, Corbett went ahead and appointed Arneson, a former newspaper scribe and an aide to Republicans in the state Senate, to the executive director’s job. Wolf, perturbed, went ahead and fired Arneson, and argued the appointment was “rushed through at the last minute after months of politically motivated delays” and that by removing Arneson, “I am standing up against an effort to destroy the integrity of the Office of Open Records and turn it into a political operation.”
The whole mess is headed to Commonwealth Court, where a hearing is planned for Wednesday. No matter the outcome, though, neither side has exactly covered itself in glory.
Corbett either should have reappointed Mutchler when her term expired, or named Arneson then. And Wolf should have kept his powder dry and given Arneson more time in the job. While working with senators, Arneson helped craft the Right to Know Law that led to the establishment of the Office of Open Records, and colleagues vouched for his evenhandedness and good character. If a pattern of partisan manipulation, or any other form of wrongdoing, emerged in Arneson’s handling of the post, then his dismissal would have been warranted.
As John Baer, a Philadelphia Daily News columnist, put it, “... Corbett played political opportunism, grabbing an appointment away from Wolf, and Wolf looks locked in political paranoia suggesting open records will close.”
Statewide media organizations, including the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association and the Pennsylvania Associated Press Managing Editors, took Wolf to task for his handling of the matter. In a statement released Friday, the managing editors said it “sets a dangerous precedent” and that “Wolf has sent the message that the position can and will be tied to political affiliation.”
Until the creation of the Right to Know Law and the Office of Open Records, Pennsylvanians had to run an arduous course if they wanted to get their hands on public documents, from budget statements to memos or anything else having to do with the day-to-day operation of government. Now, the process has been smoothed, and, if a request for a document has been denied, the burden of proof is no longer on the person who is making the request, but the person who is denying the request. This is as it should be: In a democracy, people have a valid right to know how their tax dollars are being spent. Officials should err on the side of transparency and accountability, not obfuscation.
The Office of Open Records is too important to be rudderless for long. We hope this fracas is resolved quickly and the independence of the agency is assured.
Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in the United States as compiled by the Associated Press:
As part of its serial rebuttals to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address the House Republican leadership has invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress Feb. 11.
“I don’t believe I’m poking anyone in the eye,” House Speaker John Boehner said of the invitation, although of course it was, a direct jab at Obama and a gross breach of traditional protocol.
Congress can invite whomever it wishes to speak to it, but when the guest is a foreign leader, the White House as a matter of courtesy is consulted, or at least informed, well in advance.
Obama learned of the invitation just shortly before Boehner announced it publicly.
Netanyahu has never been reluctant about meddling in U.S. politics.
He lobbied strenuously, and thankfully unsuccessfully, for a U.S. airstrike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, an attack whose results would have been problematic given Iran’s defensive preparations.
In the current political climate, Netanyahu would add weight to Republican lawmakers’ push to impose additional sanctions on Iran despite Obama’s threat to veto them and diplomatic warnings that new sanctions would blow up talks with Tehran about scrapping its development of a nuclear weapons capability.
The Republicans may get yet another chance to run U.S. foreign policy after 2016. They should wait until the voters decide whether they deserve that chance.
There’s a disappointing controversy clouding the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Bloody Sunday march in Selma, Ala. that became the tipping point for the Voting Rights Act of 1965. President Barack Obama has scheduled a trip to coincide with the anniversary of the March 7, 1965, march, cut short by a violent standoff with law enforcement at Edmund Pettus Bridge. However, March 7 is a Saturday, and the anniversary march is scheduled for the next day, just as it has always been observed on the Sunday nearest to March 7.
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Bill Cosby was once beloved and believed to be almost beyond reproach, but for the last couple of months an odor as overpowering as a rendering plant on a July afternoon has followed him around, thanks to the increasing number of allegations that the comedian drugged and sexually assaulted women at......