Washington Mayor Brenda Davis claims her fellow city officials are denying her certain information related to last month’s early closing of City Hall due to a snowstorm. But while the city solicitor says Davis is asking for information that does not exist, Joe Manning, the councilman in charge of accounts and finances, said he is willing to provide Davis what she needs.
In order to learn how many city employees were allowed to leave work early Jan. 25 during a snowstorm and what that early dismissal may have cost taxpayers, the mayor resorted to filing a Right to Know request under a 2008 state law that provides a method for the public to obtain government records.
She claims the request was denied by solicitor Lane Turturice. Turturice said he never denied the request, but that Davis was asking for information that isn’t there.
“The municipality does not have the right to create documents in order to fulfill the request, and that’s really what her request amounted to,” he said.
Turturice instructed the city clerk to give Davis a copy of the existing city salary ordinance, but Davis says that fails to answer her questions.
“This is exactly why I ran for office, because you get frustrated with the decisions being made and you don’t get answers,” Davis said. “And here I am in the highest position in the city of Washington and I still can’t get them.”
Manning said he was unaware that Davis had filed a Right to Know request and said he can get her the information.
“It’s not a secret,” he said, explaining that he had received a memo from Davis asking for the information but that Turturice told him to hold off until he first learned from other council members what led up to the building being closed early. Davis then filed the Right to Know request.
Just because the information Davis is seeking is not in one document doesn’t mean it isn’t available, said Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel with the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association. Information culled from multiple databases does not constitute creating a new record.
“I would presume the solicitor is correct there’s no one cohesive document. That doesn’t mean that there’s not information separately available,” she said.
In her Right to Know request, Davis asked for the total number of employees who left work early, what time they were dismissed and the total amount of their salaries and benefits.
The majority of council agreed to close City Hall early Jan. 25 because of inclement weather. When Davis learned of that in an email, she called Washington County and learned county offices were still open, as was Davis’ place of employment.
“Why was the city shutting down when all the businesses around us weren’t closing early?” she asked.
Councilman Matt Staniszewski said four full-time and two part-time employees at City Hall were allowed to leave work early that day due to the snow. They left work between an hour and 90 minutes early, he said, but he pointed out they worked through their lunch hour.
The weather was so bad no one was coming into City Hall that day for services anyway, he said. “We thought the compassionate thing to do was to let our staff go home early.”
“It amounts to pennies,” Staniszewski said of the cost to taxpayers. “The mayor is actually spending more money in legal fees having our solicitor research this.”