Right to Know: North York appeals state decision to turn over fire company audit

Tina Locurto
York Dispatch
Liberty Fire Company Wednesday, March 11, 2020. Bill Kalina photo

North York is fighting the state Office of Open Records decision forcing officials to turn over an audit of the now-disbanded Liberty Fire Co. to The York Dispatch.

Borough officials appealed the OOR's ruling, which will move the matter to the York County Court of Common Pleas. The hearing is scheduled for May 11 via Zoom.

The York Dispatch will be represented by attorney Paula Burke, who is also jointly representing the York Daily Record in the same case.

The York Dispatch filed several Right-to-Know requests seeking the audit from North York in March 2020 and in January 2021. The borough denied the requests, claiming the audit was related to criminal and noncriminal investigations and therefore exempt from Pennsylvania's Right-to-Know Law.

The newspaper filed an appeal in January with the state Office of Open Records, which ruled in April that the borough did not establish that it conducted a criminal investigation and that it may not withhold an audit report under the Right-To-Know Law.

More:Office of Open Records orders North York to turn over Liberty Fire Co. audit

More:Charges against ex-fire chief send shock waves through North York Borough Council

On Tuesday, North York solicitor Walt Tilley said borough officials believe the decision to release the audit must be made by the district attorney.

"The Borough has appealed the decision of the Office of Open Records, asking the court to follow the law and refer the matter to the District Attorney," Tilley said via email.

Burke said news media and the public have the right to access the audit under state law.

"We hope that the court agrees so that the York Daily Record and The York Dispatch can use these financial records to report on the actions of the local fire department," Burke said via email.

The Court of Common Pleas will have the final say in the dispute, said Liz Wagenseller, the executive director of the state Office of Open Records.

"The court will then (make) a decision and decide whether it agrees with the OOR’s final determination and uphold the OOR final determination, or if it disagrees and reverses the OOR," Wagenseller said via email.

Steven D. Miller, the former chief of North York's Liberty Fire Co., is accused of embezzling about $16,000 from the fire company.

North York officials commissioned the forensic audit of Liberty Fire Co. at the same time York County detectives were investigating former Fire Chief Stephen Miller, who was later charged with embezzlement.

In October, Miller, 58, of the 2700 block of Clearview Road in Springettsbury Township, was charged with the third-degree felonies of theft by unlawful taking, theft by failure to make required disposition of funds and receiving stolen property.

He is accused of embezzling more than $16,000 from Liberty Fire Co. between 2015 and 2019.

— Reach Tina Locurto at tlocurto@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @tina_locurto.