Pennsylvania’s Office of Open Records Orders Octorara to Produce Records

Pennsylvania Office of Open Records

On June 19, 2013, Parkesburg resident Timothy Alexander submitted a request to the Octorara Area School District seeking certain records relating to the District’s extension of the District Superintendent’s employment contract. The District did not respond within the required five business days of receiving the request, and the request was, therefore, deemed denied. On July 1, 2013, Alexander filed a timely appeal with Pennsylvania’s Office of Open Records stating grounds for disclosure.

The Pennsylvania Right-to-Know law clearly places the burden of proof on the District to demonstrate that a record is exempt. In this case, the District did not comply with the Right-to-Know law by timely responding to the request, nor did it provide any factual or legal support for denying access to responsive records. Based on the District’s failure to comply with the statutory requirements of the Right-to-Know law or to provide any evidentiary basis in support of an exemption under the Right-to-Know law, the Office of Open Records found that the District did not meet its burden under the Right-to-Know law.

Alexander’s appeal has been granted and the District is required to provide all responsive records within thirty days. This Final Determination is binding on all parties. Pennsylvania’s Office of Opens Records is to be be served notice and have an opportunity to respond according to court rules as per Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know law. This Final Determination has be placed on the Office of Open Records website at: http://openrecords.state.pa.us.

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37 responses to “Pennsylvania’s Office of Open Records Orders Octorara to Produce Records

  1. Wow! I can’t believe my tax dollars are going to a school district that refuses to answer questions. This is so distasteful and hard to swallow, and the question is why? Why would you deny this information?

    • When they put out their press release, the Directors stated they had kept the whole process secret based on the legal advice of their solicitor. This implies they at least believed they had some legal bases for doing it. The fact they ignored my request, and then the appeal through the Office of Open Records calls into question if they were being completely honest. If there was a legal bases for keeping the discussions & deliberations closed, and the records confidential, one would think they would have submitted it when I made the initial request or to the state during the appeal.

    • There was an interesting little tidbit I came across today. The OOR’s response to the District’s Petition for Reconsideration can and could be no response. They state, “The Office may deny a Petition for Reconsideration in writing. Otherwise, a Petition for Reconsideration will be deemed denied if no response is made within 30 days after it is filed.” And they may have been too late because, “…an application must be filed within 15 days after the issuance of a Final Determination.”

  2. Thank you for your perseverance in this matter. But what a sad, vexing sign of the times that a governmental entity has to be forced to be straightforward and honest with the people who pay the bills.

  3. How can we as tax payers have confidence in school board members if they can’t come out and give us the truth? I lost all faith in Lisa Bowman, and Brian Norris these actions should not be tolerated.

  4. Great job Tim! I’m sure there will be the ignorant naysayers out there that will dismiss the council’s behavior, maybe even blog about it, but we all know this mentality is the main reason our taxes are out of control and it needs to stop. Thank you for putting your neck out there for the silent majority.

    • No decent minded person would consider believing anything they read on a “ranting blog” that has no credible evidence to support it’s biased claims in my opinion!

      Tim did an excellent job with this investigation, and the residents are proud of him for bringing us the truth. Now the people need to get together and hold Dr. Newcome, Lisa Bowman, and Brian Norris accountable for their actions.

  5. Dr Newcome should be fired considering his contract already expired 9 months ago. I could care less about how he took a $8000 annual decrease in salary with a new contract considering that some people barely make $10,000 annual income in this area. I think we all should file a request to give us the answers now! Not tomorrow, not next month…NOW!

  6. It seems the official spin from the district is they never received any of the 4 documents…

    1) My Right-to-Know request,
    2) The Office of Open Records’ appeal notification,
    3) The OOR invitation to supplement the record, or
    4) The OOR’s final determination.

    They are claiming to have known nothing until this story broke.

  7. I just read about this In Parkesburg Today. And I’ll say again Good for you Tim! They are scrambling now because you took them off guard. I would think that if they were not trying to hide something they would have answered your request before the 5 days. I don’t understand why people think that the public will just take their word for it and let it go at that. I look forward to see where this one goes.

  8. Great job Tim. I guess your budy Ken is looking for some reader input.Doesn’t seem to be working as of 2:00 pm no comments.He is always protecting his friends on the school board.This should be interesting to say the least.

    • I believe most people would have a hard time defending the district ignoring a Right-to-Know request, or accepting the idea that they did not receive 4 notices (3 which came from Harrisburg). The Final Determination states it was emailed to Lisa Bowman, Board President.

      • I think an election recall needs to be placed on Lisa Bowman, and Brian Norris asap, so this doesn’t happen again in the future.

  9. I wouldn’t read a lot into any of this until the information is made available and everyone sees what wasn’t public before. Tim, you should be commended for following through and drilling down for the particulars. Well done. However, none of this means there is anything revealing or troubling that’s trying to be hidden and we should be cautious until the facts are known. After all, Governor Corbett failed to reveal his purchase of a condo at Hilton Head and his official response was he didn’t realize his vacation home had to be declared. I’m sure being a lawyer and former Attorney General he should be able to read and understand a simple declaration of assets form, but I’ll take him at his word and accept that he didn’t mean to deceive anyone. In this case until we see the facts it “might” be good to not assume they are “trying” to hide something.

    • David,

      The request for the records was not to prove there was something specificity nefarious about his contract. It is about transparency.

      I don’t know the reason, but it looks to me that the district works very hard to keep parents, citizens, and taxpayers deaf, dumb, and blind on almost every issue… except for concerts & plays, booster fundraisers, and parent-teacher conferences.

      People should not be forced to make decisions based on anecdotes and hearsay.

      Their press release, from June, left me with the impression they kept this all secret because it was easier for them to get what they wanted done if it was kept quiet.

      The more and more I research, the information I have found states legitimate purposes of an executive session are very limited, and should not be used as a subterfuge to defeat the purposes of the open meeting requirements. Ultimately, an executive session at which agency members take a vote, establish policy, decide agency business or make official recommendations is an unlawful meeting.

      I simply wanted the records or the legal basis their solicitor said (as stated in the press release) they were exempt from open meetings and open records laws. I also wanted to see if Harrisburg agreed with them.

  10. Thanks Mr. Alexander.

  11. Who is their solicitor?? Does anyone know??

  12. Wow!!
    I just saw the proof you had on the tax blog about the school board claiming they didn’t get your emails when in fact they did…Lisa Bowman should be ashamed of herself.

  13. I don’t understand the controversy. If it was a simple mistake on both ends (yes, you cc’d bowman and newcome so they clearly did get the request), why not just provide the requested information then you (Tim) could withdrawal your appeal? Why make this out to be more than what it truly is, unless there is more to the story?

    How does one make a right-to-know request? At this point, I want to submit a request.

    • To make a request, download a “Right-to-Know Uniform Request Form” for the PA Office of Open Records. They have 5 business days to respond.

      If the deny the record, you can file the appeal with Office of Open Records using the “Appeal Form – General.” Make sure you send a copy of the original request, and the denial.

      If they don’t respond, you can file an appeal with Office of Open Records using the “Appeal Form – Deemed Denied” form… attack copies of you original request and any supplemental information.

      Forms can be found at http://openrecords.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/community/open_records/4434/forms/465304

  14. Cool. Thanks.

    • After picking thru the districts online policies, I found their Public Records Policy, from 1996 & last revised in 2003, based on Act 100 of 2002. The current version is Act 3 of 2008, as signed by Gov. Edward G. Rendell on February 14, 2008, Effective January 1, 2009.

      So… 10 years old and at least 5 years out of date.

      It is no wonder the website provides so little information, the policies are outdated.

      • See what you can find out once you start to dig in?? Amazes me anyway. I wish you could have heard what the lady that owns Sewell’s market had to say about the vandalism at her store and the lousy (my word not hers) response she got from the police dept. in the burg. Even the Chief was there. We need to dig into the police further. They have too many any they still can get people arrested that pee in public in front of a young child in the store????????

          • I just read your article Tim. Did you get any answers back yet on the Right-to-Know appeal?? I need to get involved in the school board because the Parkesburg boro is going nowhere fast.

          • I received the meeting minutes from the June 17th board meeting, and a statement stating that the only action of the board was the vote on the June 17th meeting… as if everything spontaneously manifested. In a separate email, I received the District’s Petition for Reconsideration to the Office of Open Records, which if it was sent out when they said it went out was too late to be considered, and had a list of factual errors, omissions, and false assumptions. I’m hoping I will be asked to supplement the record, but who knows. We will have to wait to see. The OOR has 30 days to respond, or the District’s request will be deemed denied.

            It would be great to see you involved with the District, Debbie. I think there is much more obvious red meat. Moreover, it would also be easier to get District taxes down 6 Mills than the Borough maybe only .5 to 1 Mill.

  15. That should say Can’t get people arrested. Sorry typo.

  16. Tim; For a rookie you are doing one hell of a job.

  17. Please tell me you didn’t expect “schoolboard@octorara.com” to be a valid email address?

    That being said, I wish all information was publicly available. If there is nothing to hide, why hide it?

    • I emailed them at the same emails Tim has listed and got a response along with a copy of the contract, but the contract I received the first time had no signatures on it. Tom said it didn’t matter with or without signatures to make it binding. So to answer that question about the email yes it seems to be right and it also shows Newcomes email, and Lisa Bowmans email to make sure somebody got it. The question you may want to ask is how much is Tom’s household income compared to yours and see if he was as generous as he claims to be with his donation not to mention that Tom doesn’t live in the OAHS school district where the high taxes are paid each year.

      I would love to see Tom switch places with someone who makes under 25,000 a year and see if he feels the same way he does about his new contract with the poor results we have seen so far.

  18. Tim when I went to the Open records with a situation at the boro, I was able to email the attorney they assigned to the case. I also went over his head to the Director of the Open records (I can’t remember her name right now) and she responded in a timely manner. I never got the result I wanted but I believe the boro sat up and took notice. Especially those named in the law suit. I don’t believe they thought we would actually take it that far, that we would just drop it. We did not!

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