Over appeals from a bipartisan chorus of legislators and open-government groups, Gov. Corbett on Friday appointed Erik Arneson, a Republican Senate aide, as director of the state's Office of Open Records.
Terry Mutchler had been serving on an interim basis since her six-year term expired in April.
The Open Records Office is intended to be independent and nonpartisan, setting policies, advising government agencies on best practices, and hearing appeals when local, county, or state governments decline to provide information that requesters assert should be public.
This summer, leaders of both parties issued a rare public plea for Corbett to reappoint Mutchler, calling her critical to the "goal of promoting openness and transparency at all levels of government."
For her part, Mutchler said she wanted to stay in the $140,000-a-year job.
After Corbett lost his reelection bid, a spokeswoman said, he planned to leave the appointment up to the new administration. He gave no indication Friday of when or why he had changed his mind. Late Friday, his successor, Gov.-elect Tom Wolf, questioned the appointment, which he said was "rushed through at the last minute after months of politically motivated delays" in a closed-door process.
"This is not about Mr. Arneson, but rather about the process," Wolf said in a statement. "These are the types of actions that make people legitimately concerned about their government."
Wolf did not say whether he would seek to challenge or reverse the appointment.
Arneson, a former reporter who has been communications director to outgoing Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi since 2005, said he helped draft the right-to-know law that founded the office. In an interview, he said his top goal was "to not screw up the good work that Terry Mutchler and all the employees there have been doing. I don't think there's a need for systemic overhaul in the office."
Arneson also said his Republican registration and long history with the Senate would not affect his work in the nonpartisan office. "The law is what it is," he said. "The job of this office is to be a fair decider of appeals."
Pileggi, a Delaware County legislator who signed the July letter urging Mutchler's reappointment, backed Arneson for the job. "He is eminently qualified for the position," he said in a statement.
In a news conference at the Capitol, Mutchler said the office has brought Pennsylvania "from the dark ages into the highest levels, I believe, of transparency."
A former journalist and longtime lawyer, Mutchler will move into private practice with the Philadelphia firm Pepper Hamilton. She will lead a new transparency group within the firm's media and communications division. (Among the clients is the parent company of The Inquirer.)
Arneson said his priorities included updating the office's website and instituting a more formal rule book.