What will election bring?


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So many questions to answer with only days remaining until the election:

Who will win the local race for legislator, incumbent Kurt Masser or challenger Ted Yeager?

Does Gene Stilp, "the pink pig guy," have a chance against incumbent Lou Barletta in the newly redrawn 11th Congressional District?

What impact, if any, will Hurricane Sandy have on the presidential race? To these matters, I add another question pertinent to our newsroom: Will the predicted close finish between Obama and Romney be settled prior to deadline?

We extend our deadline by one hour on most election nights, and we hope that will be enough this time around as pundits predict a close finish.

I found a copy of the Nov. 3, 2004, News-Item that told of "Another close call" in the main headline. Secondary headlines said, "Down to the wire, Ohio looms as 2004's Florida," and "As of 2 a.m., Bush, Kerry sweat it out."

The mention of Florida was, of course, in reference to the 2000 presidential election, where George W. Bush lost the popular vote to Al Gore but won the Electoral College count, and the presidency, after a ruling by the Supreme Court gave him Florida - but only after a 36-day recount.

Politics aside, here's hoping we can definitively scream "(Obama or Romney) wins" in Wednesday's edition.

Public records fight

A hearing, originally scheduled before Kevin A. Hess, president judge of Cumberland County Court of Common Pleas, in Carlisle on Thursday, and now postponed until mid-January, involves an interesting Right to Know Law (RTKL) case.

Walter Brasch, retired Bloomsburg University journalism professor and writer, whose "Wanderings" column is published each Sunday in The News-Item, is challenging the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors (PSATS) over the release of records he says should be public.

Brasch won a "final determination" from the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records on Sept. 4, but the township association appealed, which sends the case to county court.

Brasch submitted a request to PSATS seeking copies of resolutions, meeting minutes and voting records. The agency denied the request, claiming that it is not an agency subject to RTKL.

The records sought include, for a certain period of time and pertaining to a particular bill, correspondence by PSATS's executive director or staff members to the governor, the governor's staff or the governor's cabinet secretary or designees; PSATS's income summary, including income from membership dues, advertising, and any other source of income; and correspondence from PSATS's executive director to an identified individual and in response to an e-mail from an identified individual.

PSATS argues that it is not a "commonwealth agency" as defined in the RTKL because it is a statutorily authorized member service organization that does not perform en essential governmental function; and that it is not a "local agency" or "similar governmental entity" as defined by the law.

The Office of Open Records (ORR), however, found that PSATS is created by local governments "pursuant to statutory authority and, therefore, is a 'similar governmental agency.'"

It ruled that no commonwealth or local governmental entity directly pays PSATS employees salaries; that PSATS employees do not participate in benefit plans reserved for governmental employees; that in the event of dissolution, PSATS's assets do not vest in any governmental entity; that PSATS's employees and executive board are not indemnified by any governmental agency; that no single township controls PSATS; and that resolutions adopted by PSATS's membership do not establish the policies of any governmental entities and are not binding in any way on any governmental entity. And still, ORR ruled, "these factors cannot offset the fact that PSATS exists solely as an extension of, and to serve, township governments in the commonwealth that are otherwise subject to the RTKL."

Organizations that lobby on behalf of townships and other political bodies could be subject to the open records law and be forced to publicly share documents that pertain to those associations and state government should the decision be upheld, according to a story by The Patriot News. It could lead to a host of similar associations that represent the interests of political bodies before state legislators having to open up their records and documents to RTKL requests.

Stay tuned.

(Andy Heintzelman, editor of The News-Item, writes "The Week In News" for each Saturday edition.)

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