EDITORIAL: Fighting for your right to know
This week The York Dispatch is filing an appeal to gain access to portions of a report by the state Department of Corrections that recommended changes at the York County Prison.
Both the county and the department denied Right-to-Know Law requests for the report, citing exemptions dealing with security and safety.
Donald Reihart, solicitor for the York County Prison Board, said the report details recommendations for preventing prison break-outs and break-ins, minimizing injuries to staff and inmates in the event of a crisis situation, changes in staff organization and improving communication between staff members, among other things.
We understand the state Office of Open Records and the courts give wide latitude to prison officials to make determinations about safety and security with regard to releasing information to the public, and there is some information that should not be released.
But as Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel for the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, notes, there may be some information in the department's report that doesn't pose a security risk and that the public would be interested in.
She said the release of such information would provide some level of access and accountability for York County citizens.
Yet county officials have shown little interest in even a smidge of transparency.
We are filing our appeal only after attempting to work with officials to find a balance between safety and security and the public’s right to know.
We suggested the county release a redacted report, or simply the executive summary (which itself could be redacted) or even just a table of contents so public can know for sure what is covered in the report.
Considering their unwillingness to find a compromise, it would seem county officials don’t understand why the public would be interested in this report — or don’t care.
Aside from the York County Prison being a public facility, staffed by public employees and overseen by elected officials, there’s this:
Between 2013 and 2017, staff overtime costs at the prison nearly doubled.
If the report notes mismanagement, the public deserves to know. There should be a full accounting of exactly what went wrong, who was responsible and what is being done to fix the problem.
If there’s some other explanation, let’s hear what the Department of Corrections had to say about it.
The public doesn’t care where the keys to the cells are kept or when the guards take breaks: We want to know if public officials are spending our tax dollars wisely (or even competently).
Unfortunately, this isn’t an isolated case.
In fact, a lack of transparency is becoming more common in York County government, such as officials refusing to release details of a settlement with an activist who sued the county or keeping mum about the recent departure of the county solicitor.
Then there’s this:
Much like at the prison, county officials hired a consultant to audit the operations at the York County 911 Center, which was having overtime issues of its own as well as hiring and retention problems.
The audit began in September 2017, and county officials started making changes in May based on the consultant’s recommendations.
What about the full report? That’s a reasonable question.
County spokesman Mark Walters said the company, Business Information Group, is making “informal suggestions” and won’t be issuing an official report.
Oh, and he said there is no documentation of the company’s suggestions.
That is not a reasonable answer, not when county officials are paying the company at least $43,000 and the contract includes a list of "deliverables."
The York Dispatch this week also filed a Right-to-Know Law request seeking all documentation and records of the 911 Center audit.
We’ll keep you updated.