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Publisher's Voice: You have a right to know

Posted 10/2/12

“A popular government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy; or, perhaps both.” – James MadisonOver the past year, Middletown residents have voiced frustration over the scant …

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Publisher's Voice: You have a right to know

Posted

Do taxpayers have a right to know about borough services and departments that council has targeted for the chopping block? Do taxpayers have a right to know how much money council is spending on its procession of consultants and solicitors? Do taxpayers have a right to know who the borough hires, and for what positions? And most importantly, do taxpayers have a right to know when the borough’s council and committee meetings are going to take place?

Of course, the answer is yes, taxpayers have that right because such access results in a responsive, accountable and effective government, stimulating civic involvement and trust. Not surprisingly, the public’s access to vital government information is protected by law.

Pennsylvania has an open-records law which allows public access to a wide array of government records. The law establishes that all records kept by local and state government are presumed to be open to the public, with some exceptions. It puts the burden of proving why a record should not be released on government agencies. No longer do citizens who are denied records have to prove why they should have them. And citizens do not have to go to court when they feel their request has been unjustly denied.

A great deal of the information alienated Middletown residents seek is information to which they are legally entitled under Pennsylvania’s Right To Know Law. That law empowers Jane and John Q. Public to get information through a Right To Know request.

With the assistance of the Commonwealth Foundation, the following is offered to help you get the information you seek, the information you deserve, the information that you are legally entitled to have.

Start by obtaining a copy of the standard Right to Know Request form. The form can be downloaded from the Press And Journal’s website www.pressandjournal.com. Forms are also available free of charge at our office.

It is not necessary to use the form – a letter or e-mail will do. But the form is simple and short, and if you use it, there can be no doubt that you are requesting records under PA’s Right to Know Law.

The request should be addressed to the local government’s open records officer. Someone must be designated to this position. By law, this information must be posted at the local government’s office, and posted on its website, if it has one. There should be contact information for the open records officer as well.

Middletown’s Right to Know officer is Chris Courogen, borough secretary and director of communications. Each municipality and school district has named a Right to Know officer on their staff who will answer requests.

If you would like to know specific details about filing a Right to Know Request, visit the website of the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association: http://www.pa-newspaper.org/legal/openrecords.