LET'S AGREE the brawl over the state Office of Open Records, now to be battled in Commonwealth Court, could have been better handled - on both sides.

Gov. Tom Corbett, ousted by voters, could have graciously allowed Gov. Wolf, chosen by voters, to pick whomever to head the office, which exists to give citizens easier access to government.

This is especially so since Corbett made no move until leaving office to replace OOR's first director, Terry Mutchler, who had run the place since its inception in 2008 and whose six-year term expired in April.

Corbett even indicated he'd leave the issue up to Wolf. On the day after the November election, the Inquirer quoted Corbett's communications chief as saying Corbett expected to "take no action" on replacing or reappointing Mutchler.

Yet he did take action, naming longtime Republican Senate aide Erik Arneson as executive director on Jan. 13.

So Wolf, who took office Jan. 20, has a legit beef about an 11th-hour reversal that smacks of partisan politics.

But his reaction has been ham-handed.

Two days after taking office, he denounced "the process" and fired Arneson.

Wolf since complains of efforts to put a former Corbett aide in OOR and labels all this "an effort to destroy the integrity" of the office and make it "a political operation."

Arneson and the GOP Senate are suing on grounds that Wolf had no authority to fire a fixed-term appointee except for cause. Wolf claims he does. A court hearing is set for Tuesday.

But consider this:

"The process" Wolf denounces permits a sitting governor to make appointments, in this case sleazily so, but legally so.

Firing a well-regarded professional, who, as top aide to Republican Sen. Dominic Pileggi, helped create the state's right-to-know law and the ORR, lit a fuse that could explode hopes of GOP help on Wolf's agenda and/or Cabinet picks requiring Senate confirmation.

And asserting that folks who haven't yet served in the OOR are there to destroy its integrity (well-established under Mutchler) and make it partisan is profiling without evidence.

Just because someone worked in a milieu with certain traits doesn't mean that person is marked with, holds or carries forward those same traits.

Arneson's reputation, for example, is much better than the state Senate's.

"He has more integrity than anybody over here," a senior Senate aide says, "and it was sometimes to the frustration of a lot of us over here."

Wolf also calls it problematic that Arneson wants lawyer Delene Lantz-Johnson to be OOR's chief counsel. She served in Corbett's Office of General Counsel specializing in right-to-know issues.

She's still there under Wolf, is scheduled to start in OOR on Monday, but a Wolf spokesman says her employment at OOR is uncertain.

Arneson says, "She's handled right-to-know requests with every state agency under the governor's control."

I guess the argument is she's a hack political pal of Corbett who represented government in records requests so she must be part of a plan to, along with Arneson, destroy OOR.

Based on what is unclear.

So Corbett played political opportunism, grabbing an appointment away from Wolf, and Wolf looks locked in political paranoia suggesting open records will close.

How about this?

Both sides back off litigation, saving time and tax dollars and cooling political heels.

Since there's no question Arneson's legally appointed, let the appointment stand.

Since Wolf believes he has authority to fire Arneson at any time, fire him for cause at any hint that OOR is operating in partisan fashion.

The alternative is protracted legal and political fights that distract from Wolf's pledge to dedicate his administration to jobs that pay, schools that teach and government that works.

Unless and until there's proof that OOR isn't working, the new governor and Pennsylvania are better served by laser focus on that pledge.

Blog: ph.ly/BaerGrowls

Columns: ph.ly/JohnBaer