Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Open records? Maybe not.

On Tuesday, there were two big developments in the ongoing investigation into Harrisburg corruption, known as "Bonusgate." As has been covered elsewhere, the grand jury that brought the original charges has released a report calling for sweeping reform. At the same time, there are new allegations that one of the officials who was supposed to help make government more open was busy doing the opposite.

Harrisburg District Judge William Wenner on Tuesday ordered former caucus open-records officer John Zimmerman to stand trial on charges he obstructed justice by helping conceal evidence being sought by subpoena.

Zimmerman served as the open-records officer for the House Republican Caucus. His job, according to a law passed in 2007, was to help facilitate requests from the public for memos, financial reports, and other documents produced internally by the GOP. Almost every state agency has a similar position, including the three other caucuses in the legislature.

According to the Attorney General's office, Zimmerman colluded with other GOP officials to conceal incriminating documents that pointed to a scheme that used $20 million in public dollars to gather massive amounts of data on Pennsylvania voters. A box of documents was moved from the State Capitol to a campaign office after prosecutors started asking questions.

Witness Sheila Flickinger, who worked for both the Legislature and the House Republican Campaign Committee, testified that the committee also issued small checks to the computer companies. She said those payments were a "cover" and that they weren't nearly enough compensation for the amount of campaign work those companies provided.

Zimmerman denies all knowledge of the entire affair.

Defense attorney Tom Bergstrom had argued that Mr. Zimmerman didn't know what was in boxes that were moved from a storage area in the Capitol to campaign offices across the street. Further, he didn't know investigators were seeking the contents, Mr. Bergstrom said.

We have no way of knowing if Zimmerman is telling the truth. Still, we can't help but be struck by the irony of an open-records officer potentially being involved in a cover up. The open records law -- passed as a result of a midnight pay raise debacle -- was supposed to make the legislature more transparent. Instead, the guy in charge of making that happen is being charged with doing the opposite. If this is true, it just makes reform in Harrisburg seem that much harder to accomplish.

Follow us on Twitter and review city services on our sister site, City Howl.