The ruling by the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records was upheld by Judge Cyrus Palmer Dolbin in Schuylkill County Court, directing Rush Township to provide Marion Lazur with access to certain township financial records without redaction.
The court, however, denied her request for the township to pay her reasonable attorneys fees and costs.
Lazur, a former township supervisor, sought under the Right-to-Know Law to view all the bills or invoices paid in the township General Fund for the months of January, February and March of 2007. The township asked for specific bills she wished to view and also claimed the right to redact any private or confidential information that is exempted under the law.
Lazur provided a list of invoices that could be omitted from her request. The township asked her to prepay for the copies that needed to be made in order to redact all of the account numbers issued to the township by vendors.
Lazur interpreted the request as a denial and filed an appeal to the Office of Open Records, which granted her request and ordered the township to provide her access to the original financial records without redaction.
After the township appealed the ruling to the county court, Lazur responded by claiming the documents she seeks to view are public records and that the information the township seeks to redact – namely account numbers and vendor codes on financial records – does not fall under any of the specified exemption under the Right-to-Know Law.
To support his ruling Dolbin stated, "We have carefully reviewed the Right-to-Know Law and cases decided there under, and cannot find any statutory justification or case law supporting the township's claim that the account numbers and vendors codes found on the requested financial records are not subject to access and must be redacted.
"The township's argument is that the account numbers and vendor codes are 'either privileged, protected from disclosure or exempted from disclosure,' so that trade secret or confidential information can be prevented because it would seriously disrupt the business of each vendor."
Dolbin disagreed, stating, "The Right-to-Know Law is to promote access to official government information in order to prohibit secrets, scrutinize the actions of public officials, and make public officials accountable for their action. Because the township provided no evidence in support of its claim that it is confidential proprietary information, we reject this argument. In fact, there is no exception for an agency's account numbers or vendors codes."
Dolbin concluded, "Since the township relied on advice given from the Office of Open Records itself, we cannot say the township acted in bad faith or willfully or with wanton disregard in denying Lazur access to the documents."