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Schuylkill County News

State Says Schuylkill County Government Transparency “Concerning”

Anyone can say they’re transparent. Being transparent requires actual action.

Schuylkill County Commissioners LOVE to brag about their transparency.

They’ll tell anyone at any chance they have.

In fact, they just did it last week following their Work Session meeting, talking to someone who really gave them the business about their apparent lack of transparency.

But on Tuesday, we got just the latest example of how transparency isn’t just some phrase you say to make yourself look good. It’s an actual act. Transparency is something you practice, not something you say.

In order to be transparent, you don’t need to say anything. It’ll be obvious to those who might question it.

To better illustrate this, we’ve decided to bust out a favorite means of telling a story … a Seinfeld meme story (where we take a scene from an episode of Seinfeld and relate it to the story we’re trying to convey).

Schuylkill County Government Transparency “Concerning” to State Open Records Office

This latest example of Schuylkill County government merely saying it’s transparent but not actually being transparent revolves around its Right to Know Law requests process.

The County, by law, must provide access to any requested public record. But that’s not always how it shakes down, as we learned with a recent example.

On Tuesday, the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records made a final determination on a Right to Know Law request filed originally at Schuylkill County Courthouse by Denise McGinley-Gerchak.

That name should sound familiar to anyone following our stories from the Courthouse. She is, among other things, one of the two long-term suspended employees from the Tax Claims/Tax Assessment office.

In early September, McGinley-Gerchak requested two specific public records from the Courthouse, each related to a property tax sale. They were:

  • All emails from Deb Dasch to/from Denise Burke dated [September
    1, 2023] with the subject title ‘Bidder Registration.’
  • List of all parcels that need a distribution from all sales.

The County didn’t want any part of that, apparently, and gave what definitely seems to be a bit of a BS or lazy response.

The County responded and told McGinley-Gerchak that some of the records – the emails – she was requesting didn’t exist.

McGinley-Gerchak knew they did. In fact, she had gotten a copy of them “from another source,” OOR notes in its final determination on her appeal to the County’s denial of her request.

OOR said the request was dismissed as “moot” because McGinley-Gerchak had gotten what she wanted elsewhere. However, the state also said, “It is concerning that the County denied Request 1, arguing that no records exist.”

Further, OOR said the County did not make a “good faith effort” in attempting to provide the public records being accessed. It cited the law which states, “An agency shall make a good faith effort to determine if the record requested is a public record … and whether the agency has possession, custody or control of the identified record.”

On the second request, OOR denied McGinley-Gerchak’s appeal because it determined that the County would have had to make a separate document in order to provide her with the information she was requesting.

McGinley-Gerchak believes that’s not true. If she wants to fight the OOR determination, she can file an appeal with the Schuylkill County Court of Common Pleas within 30 days.

Schuylkill County Transparency Level: “Concerning”

This incident shows that you can’t just say you’re transparent, you actually have to back it up with action.

The Commissioners and anyone at that Courthouse can say they’re transparent. They can talk about how transparent they are for hours. But transparency isn’t just something you say.

But when the chips were down, all those words were just a lot of hot air. And that’s not some editorial opinion. It’s backed up by the arbiter of government transparency to the public in Pennsylvania.

The OOR clearly states – being very transparent about it – what Schuylkill County government officials did in denying McGinley-Gerchak’s request for those emails is “concerning” and showed a lack of a “good faith effort” at being transparent.

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  1. James EISENHART

    November 24, 2023 at 5:09 am

    So Is this from: Conmissioners-Gary Bender,Row office holder? Or direction from top.

    In hindsight,Boots is a better Democratic office than Hess! Nice job on the Meme

    • Canary Commenter

      November 24, 2023 at 8:52 am

      Technically, the Solicitor’s office makes determination on RTK requests. But who hires the Solicitor. Boots is the the top of the chain at the Courthouse. And this is just how they operate when it comes to RTK requests. These requests also tend to take FOREVER to get a response. Legally, they have a clock ticking on when they must respond. They must love hearing that clock tick because they milk every last second. That’s not the case through the entire government, however. We’ve had a good experience with the Election Bureau, by contrast. In some cases, we got same-day service.

      • Val

        November 24, 2023 at 11:29 am

        Technically, the Schuylkill County OOR’s direct job to provide public with records, not the Solicitor’s office to determine anything on RTK requests. Otherwise what is the point to keep Office of Open Records (OOR) in Schuylkill County?
        You are right, it does take FOREVER to get through Schuylkill buraucratic loopholes. However, with some patience, you may succeed. Good luck!

  2. Val

    November 24, 2023 at 10:41 am

    So now we know that Schuylkill County transparency level is “concerning”. Thanks, Captain Obvious!

  3. Coalregion12

    November 24, 2023 at 11:32 am

    Curious to see what was in those emails. Denise must know they must contain something good. Hopefully the public will get a look too.

    • Val

      November 24, 2023 at 12:53 pm

      The law also says: ” If a court holds that records were denied based on an unreasonable interpretation of law, or IN BAD FAITH, an agency can be required to pay attorneys’ fees”. Plus $500.00 per day if an agency still not complying.
      Hopefully the County will act in good faith this time.

  4. Virginia

    April 2, 2024 at 12:19 pm

    The county ignored a RTK request for the calculation and process rules used to determine property tax. Definitely no transparency in the county. Why are they hiding information? The answer is obvious.

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