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DHS News January 2012    

PDF Icon DHS News January 2012

PA Right-To-Know Law: How Does it Impact DHS?

The Pennsylvania Right-To-Know law (RTK), implemented in 2008, requires all Commonwealth, local, legislative and judicial agencies to provide access to public records upon request. This means the public has the right to inspect and/or obtain copies of Allegheny County’s public records, including those held by DHS. Any legal resident of the United States can file an RTK request. 

How is ‘public record’ defined? Are there exceptions?
The RTK law’s definition of a public record is broad and presumes that all records held by Allegheny County (regardless of format) are public records, unless disclosure is barred by:

  1. state or federal law or regulation (including those related to confidentiality), or judicial order;
  2. privilege (e.g., attorney-client, doctor-patient); or
  3. one of the 30 exceptions outlined in the RTK law, including records identifying people who apply for or receive social services and records containing the name, home address or date of birth of a child who is 17 or younger.

How long does an agency have to respond to the request?
The RTK law outlines strict timelines. Allegheny County has five business days to respond in writing in one of the following three ways:

  1. grant the request;
  2. deny the request (citing the legal basis for denial/partial denial); or
  3. invoke a 30-day extension for specific reasons as defined in the RTK Law.

There is a penalty of up to $1,500 if an agency acts in bad faith and denies access to a public record.

Who is responsible for compliance with requests?
To assure compliance with the RTK law, Department of Administrative Services Director Timothy H. Johnson was appointed Allegheny County Open Records Officer and a County-wide policy, “Governing Access to Public Records,” was created. This document delineates requirements for County departments and agencies under the supervision of the County Executive’s Office. DHS is covered under this policy.

In order to facilitate the processing of an RTK request for DHS records, the Office of Community Relations (OCR) operates as the point of contact between all other DHS Offices, the County Open Records Office and County Solicitors. Currently the lead role within DHS is assigned to Karen L. Blumen, DHS Deputy Director, OCR who is assisted by Jill Brant and Elaine Plunkett. Each DHS Office has a designated RTK representative to assist in responding to the records requested. The representatives are:

  • AAA: Darlene Burlazzi
  • AIMS: Randy Brockington
  • DARE: Erin Dalton
  • OBH: Sue Martone
  • OCS: Reggie Young
  • OID: Kris Lamont
  • CYF: Adrianne Smith and Angel Zang

How many requests has DHS received since 2008, and from whom?
In the three years since the RTK law’s implementation, DHS has responded to 53 RTK record requests, translating into hundreds of staff hours spent retrieving, redacting (as needed) and copying/scanning thousands of records. In 2011 alone, DHS staff worked a total of 130 hours on such requests. Some examples of records requested over the years include provider contract records, payroll records, list of all job titles within all DHS program offices, program and fiscal monitoring reports, provider audits and records regarding the National Voting Rights Act. Requests have been made by the general public, attorneys, union representatives, prospective and current provider agencies, and the news media.

What to do if contacted by someone wishing to make an RTK request?
A requester should be directed to forward his/her RTK request to the Open Records Officer by mail, fax, email, or in person during regular business hours of 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday – Friday, except holidays and official office closings. There may be times when an RTK request is sent directly to DHS staff. If this occurs, staff should immediately forward the RTK request to the County Open Records Officer. If you have any questions, contact your office’s designated RTK representative.

The Open Records Officer contact information is:

Timothy H. Johnson
436 Grant Street, Room 202
Pittsburgh, PA 15219-2495
Phone: 412-350-6109
Fax: 412-350-4925
Email: OpenRecords@alleghenycounty.us  

Does the RTK law apply to consumers’ access to personal records?
The RTK law is not intended to be a barrier to consumers of DHS services who want to have access to their records. Consumers who want access to their records should not make an RTK request. Instead, each program office has a protocol detailing the method by which a consumer can access personal records. This procedure should continue to be followed.

For more information, DHS staff can visit the “Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law and DHS” page on the DHS Intranet; others can visit Open Records page.

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