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PA-Gov: GOP Sues Wolf Over Firing of Corbett’s Appointee

Erik Arneson

Not much of a honeymoon.

Senate Republicans have decided to sue newly inaugurated Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett over his firing of Erik Arneson, Pennsylvania’s Director of the Office of Open Records.  Arneson was appointed to his position by former Governor Tom Corbett with just 10 days left in his term.

Matt Haverstick, who is the attorney representing the Senate Republicans, insisted that because of the office’s “watchdog” capabilities, the Open Records Office must remain “an independent agency.”

Haverstick also told reporters that the suit seeks an emergency injunction to reinstate Arneson. The hearing on the injunction is set for next Tuesday.

Gov. Wolf argues that elected leaders should be open and transparent, but Corbett’s appointment of Arneson to a six-year term was “anything but open and transparent.”

Gov. Wolf also says he is “standing up against an effort to destroy the integrity of the Office of Open Records and turn it into a political operation,” and that “these attempts to change the office, which exists to protect the public’s right to know, are the exact reasons people distrust their state government.”

In addition, Wolf mentioned that Arneson was an at-will employee who could be fired at any time.

Since the firing, Nathan Byerly, the Open Records Office’s deputy director, has served as acting director.

13 Responses

  1. Whether Corbett was within his rights to make the appointment or not, it smacks of sour grapes, nothing else. It also makes me wonder how much Republicans are paying attention to the voters’ will? The Wolf election was historic because people were fed up with Harrisburg. Let’s face it, we won’t have legislative change because of gerrymandering. The only way voters could express dissatisfaction was in changing a pattern in the Governor’s race that existed for sixty years. So instead of going humbly, Corbett went out like a sore loser.

  2. Denny Bonavita makes valid points. The driving force for Right To Know Law which created the Open Records Office were Senate Republicans, particularly, and unexpectedly, Sen. Pileggi.

    However, the legislature was more Democratic at the time and Gov. Rendell had not made Right to Know a priority.

    As Venesky v. Ridge holds, even setting a term for a appointee to an independent agency, is ” at will”. Under the Constitution, there is, really, no such thing as the “independent agency”. There are three branches of government and ALL agencies are part of the executive.

    I am not sure if the Constitution could be overridden by an Act of the General Assembly and it might require a Constitutional Amendment to make the Executive Director an appointee for six years who could be terminated for only impeachable offenses.

  3. Wolf might be legally within his rights. But still, the firing was politically stupid and provoked a needless fight. Wolf, not Republicans, is to blame for that. Republicans, who controlled the Legislature when the Open Records law was written, are to blame for not passing legislation stipulating removal only for just cause, or via impeachment. The Legislature should fix that right now with veto-proof clarifying legislation. Wolf should reappoint Arneson, not rescind the firing, preserving his prerogative. Let’s move on.

  4. “Sheridan has said that Wolf’s Office of General Counsel considers the executive director of the Office of Open Records an at-will employee. Sheridan pointed to a 2008 appointment letter for former executive director Terry Mutchler that described her as such.

    “Sheridan said case law is on their side. In 2002, the state Commonwealth Court upheld former Gov. Tom Ridge’s right to remove a member of the Pennsylvania Game Commission.”

    This is a clown show and a complete waste of time and money, and the Repubs behind it know that. Just like their counterparts in Washington, PA’s Republican legislators care more about partisan bickering than they do about getting the state back on track.

  5. Rick and Frank, when a statutory term of office is used (as it is with independent agencies), there is no talk of “at will” or unions. The guy is an appointee for a six year term, period. Wolf’s appointees to cabinet-level secretary jobs serve at Wolf’s pleasure and can be removed at any time. Terry Mutchler was assured of her position for six years and was only removable after that term expired quite some time ago.

  6. So, let me get this straight…the Senate Republicans are suing the Commonwealth (taxpayer dollars all around), in order to maintain the independent integrity of the office…but yet the man their supporting is a lifelong Republican shill…hmmm?

  7. Here’s the problem the GOP has on this issue. When they wrote the law they didn’t put in a way for anyone to remove the Exec Dir from office, even if there was malfeasance, arrests, convictions or anything. Most appointments that have a term have a removal process for abuse of office at the very least. This leads to the presumption that the Exec Dir is At-Will which means that you can be fired for any reason. And Pa. is an At-Will state, unlike some others that are Just Cause, which means you have to show a just cause for firing someone.

  8. @Barricks. Thank you but they can’t revise first sentence of your concern. It is not even a sentence. This is really becoming prevalent everywhere. I fear they will revise the first ACTUAL sentence here instead of your request. :/

  9. Is this guy a union employee, or a at will employee,if he is at will. quit wasting taxpayers money.

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