Gov. Wolf sued over dismissal of new open records officer

By Jim Boyle | Feb 2, 2015

HARRISBURG - One of Governor Tom Wolf's first acts as state executive has come under

scrutiny from party rivals in the General Assembly and a nonprofit organization, according to lawsuits filed in the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania.

According to a lawsuit filed by the Senate Majority Caucus, Wolf explicitly crossed the line between the governor's office and the independent Office of Open Records when he terminated co-plaintiff Erik Arneson as executive director within hours of his inauguration.

"The Governor’s assault on the independence of the Executive Director offends separation of powers principles in the Pennsylvania Constitution and violates the express statutory independence of the Executive Director," the complaint says.

Arneson's removal two weeks ago was one reversal of several last-minute appointments made by former Gov. Tom Corbett during the final days of his term. Wolf also cancelled the appointment of former Lt. Gov. James Cawley to the board of trustees for Temple University. According to news reports, Arneson arrived at his office on Jan. 23 to find the locks changed and was stripped of his parking pass and ID card.

"Elected leaders should be open, transparent, and accountable to the people of Pennsylvania," a statement released by Wolf's office says.

"The actions taken by my predecessor in the eleventh hour, when he named Erik Arneson, a longtime Republican staffer, as executive director of the Office of Open Records, were anything but open and transparent."

The Senate Majority Caucus seeks a preliminary injunction of Arneson's dismissal during the litigation process of the complaint to allow the ousted director to continue serving his six-year term. A coinciding lawsuit filed by the nonprofit Pennsylvanians for Union Reform (PFUR) also seeks an injunction and declaratory judgment.

Headed by anti-union activist Simon Campbell, PFUR has been locked in a years-long struggle to access public records of members of Pennsylvania teachers' unions.

His group originally requested salary information for the 230,000 members and retirees of the State Employees' Retirement System. The union resisted the request, saying the information also included names and addresses of teachers and would jeopardize their security.

Approximately 35,000 names were given to PFUR, with the union stopping the release of data from the Public School Employees' Retirement System. PFUR filed an appeal with the Office of Open Records and says that any handling of the case by Wolf's appointed temporary replacement, Nathaniel Byerly, would be unlawful.

"PFUR got caught up in this saga because we coincidentally filed a Right to Know appeal on the same day that Erik Arneson was purportedly fired," PFUR said in a statement. "We then witnessed Governor Wolf illegally appoint a staff employee who assigned our appeal to a personally endorsed Appeals Officer of the Governor."

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