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EDITORIAL: Transparency demands that PIAA should not be exempt from Right-to-Know Law

From left, Central York's Beau Pribula, Seth Griffiths and Jack Smith hold the team's runner-up trophy after falling 62-13 to St. Joseph's Prep in the PIAA Class 6-A football championship game at Hersheypark Stadium in Hershey on Saturday, Nov. 28. The PIAA wants to be exempt from the state's Right-to-Know Law. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Yes, it can be a pain.

Yes, it can require extra work — sometimes lots of extra work.

And yes, there can be “frivolous” requests.

But no, the Pennyslvania Interscholastic Athletic Association should not be exempt from the state’s Right-to-Know Law.

The PIAA, the state’s governing body for high school athletics, has filed a lawsuit against the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, asking to be exempt from the state's Right-to-Know Law.

PIAA executive director Bob Lombardi recently said his organization has exhausted all legislative opportunities over the past decade to appeal the ruling before filing the lawsuit. Lombardi said the PIAA did not want to file the lawsuit until it was the organization's final option because of the cost of litigation and the potential criticism the move would bring.

Bob Lombardi

Well, Mr. Lombardi, your organization’s lawsuit is deserving of criticism, as is your reasoning.

"The board feels the PIAA is the only nonprofit corporation that is in the Right-to-Know Law," Lombardi said. "We are not a state-established entity and the legislation seems to single us out as an association."

It may technically be true that the PIAA is not a “state-established entity.”

PIAA shouldn't be exempt: That does not mean, however, that the PIAA should be exempt from the state’s RTK Law.

The PIAA comes under the purview of the state Legislature through the Pennsylvania Athletic Oversight Committee. The PIAA has long accepted that oversight.

The PIAA also collects hundreds of thousands of dollars in membership fees each year, with the majority of those fees coming from public schools, which are funded by the state’s taxpayers.

Those two facts alone would seem to negate the PIAA’s assertion that it is a simple “association” or club and therefore should not subject to RTK requirements.

Finally, if Pennsylvania youngsters want to play high school athletics in the state, they have to abide by the PIAA’s rules, which makes the PIAA one powerful sports organization. It only seems fair, then, that the PIAA also plays by the state’s rules on RTK requirements.

PIAA cuts practice requirements for teams after winter season resumes

Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel for the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, may have put it best when she said recently: “What they do, how they’re funded and the power they exercise demand accountability.”

RTK requests can be costly and time consuming: Lombardi, of course, would counter that fulfilling RTK demands can be extremely costly and time consuming, especially for an organization that took a serious financial hit during a 2020 high school season packed with numerous COVID-19-related cancellations and postponements.

He’s almost certainly right about that. Inconvenience and cost, however, are not proper excuses for trying to evade the requirements of a law that was passed to promote transparency when it comes to spending taxpayer money.

If inconvenience and cost were legitimate excuses, every governmental organization in the state could rightly claim exemptions from the RTK Law.

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The result would be the end of open government, leaving taxpayers in the dark about how their hard-earned dollars are being spent. That is not acceptable.

Additionally, the PIAA may not have anything to hide, but this lawsuit certainly leaves the impression that the organization doesn’t like the public nosing around in their affairs.

The bottom line is this. The PIAA is happy to take membership fees from taxpayer-supported public schools. That means they must abide by the laws passed by the duly-elected representatives of those taxpayers.

It’s simple, really.