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  • Writer's pictureBrandon Harter

From Bad Press to Success: Complying with PA’s Right-to-Know Law as a Small Municipality

Updated: May 7, 2019

Bad Press from Right-To-Know Requests

A recent local news story suggested that public agencies are granting fewer than 1 in 4 requests under Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law. While it did not consider whether the denied requests were improper, it created fodder for the paper to imply that these municipal bodies are misleading the public by falsely labeling “No requests exist” on otherwise legitimate inquiries. Beyond a mere public black eye, if the requesting party lacks faith in the process, it can lead to expensive, lengthy appeals from individuals looking to gain access to the open records.

At a Harrisburg panel discussion on the Right-to-Know law in March, smaller municipalities came under fire for failing to comply quickly and completely with open records requests. Investigative reporter Mike Wereschagin said that he’s “had them just ignore you”. And if you do get a response, Wereschagin remarks that it’s often in a format that makes the data much more difficult to use, like producing a spreadsheet as a PDF.

But these articles don’t talk about the staff time, technological difficulty and expense required to comply with these requests. As any Right-to-Know Law officer can tell you, there is no exception for not responding merely because a request overwhelms the resources of a small municipality.

So how can you comply with these requests, increase your transparency, and garner good press without increasing the burden on your organization? You get Gathering Mist to help. Gathering Mist’s software and expertise can quickly and efficiently pull all the relevant data you need to produce on a predictable, flat-fee basis. All we need is access to a backup of the relevant email accounts or file storage from your IT. We can get the data you need to respond to the requests in a format that’s easy for you and the requester - eliminating complaints that the information is too difficult to use.

Need to redact some of these documents before providing them? Let Gathering Mist load them into a review platform that makes it easy to mark redactions or exclude documents from a Right-to-Know response, all through a web-based tool that requires no setup on your part.

Some requesters are never satisfied with what you give them. But, by conducting your search with Gathering Mist’s help, you will have an easy-to-explain, easy-to-defend process that can survive any appeal. You can even explain the process to a disgruntled requester, which may dissuade them from ever challenging your response.

While a request for a document or two causes little trouble, requests for hundreds or thousands of documents - like for all emails on a given subject - can be truly overwhelming. Let Gathering Mist help you reclaim the bad press and increase your transparency.

Contact us today to make your responses faster, easier, and more defensible.

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