Gov. Corbett is wrongly trying to circumvent Pennsylvania's open-records law by declaring his daily schedule off limits to public scrutiny. Is he trying to hide something?
The governor's negative response to a reasonable request by the media to know what's on his daily agenda has morphed into a crucial challenge that could undermine the state's fledgling Office of Open Records and have a chilling effect on government openness.
Corbett and his lawyers have put up roadblocks ever since Associated Press reporter Mark Scolforo filed a simple request in February 2011 to look at the governor's schedule and e-mails.
The lawyers claimed exemptions under the state's 2008 Right-to-Know Law. So much for Corbett's declaration in his inaugural address that "we must restore transparency" in government.
Eventually, the governor's office released some redacted material, but most of it was useless. The administration largely argued that some of the information could disclose deliberations about policy or personnel, or cause a security risk because it included Corbett's travel plans.
Those weak arguments denying access to the information cited the 1972 shooting of Alabama Gov. George Wallace and the 1935 assassination of Louisiana Gov. Huey Long as reasons a governor's schedule must be guarded.
With good reason, the Associated Press appealed, and the state Office of Open Records sided with the wire service, ruling that most of the information being withheld should be released.
In fact, Terry Mutchler, executive director of the Open Records Office, said it has been widely recognized in most states for decades that a public official's calendar should be accessible to the public.
In another egregious and completely retaliatory move, the governor's office filed a lawsuit against Scolforo personally, not his employer. The AP is representing Scolforo.
The case before Mutchler should have ended after Commonwealth Court ordered her office to review the governor's schedule "in camera," or privately, to determine if it should be exempt from public access. The open-records office routinely conducts such reviews to settle disputes over what should be made public.
Instead, the court invalidated Mutchler's order and granted the governor's request to rehear the case in February in Philadelphia.
The court has put in jeopardy the authority of the open-records office to act as an independent watchdog to protect the public's right to know and prevent government agencies from arbitrarily deciding what information to release.
Lawmakers revised the law in 2008, establishing that all government records are presumed to be public unless specifically covered by one of about 30 exemptions.
A wrong decision by the court when it rehears the case would be a setback for Pennsylvania, which used to have one of the weakest public-records laws in the country.