Whenever a Pennsylvania news outlet or one of the state’s residents requests public information, it could be denied. The person or entity requesting the information does not have to accept this response without further inquiry since the public agency must have a compelling reason to deny the request. In this case, the state’s Right to Know Law allows for an appeal, but that may not be the best way to resolve the dispute.
The Pennsylvania Office of Open Records does provide for mediation of disputes between a member of the public and the agency from which the information was requested. Both parties must agree to participate in the process in writing. To request this method of resolution, it must be requested when filing an appeal.
Using mediation may work best when the parties want to keep the matter confidential. The proceedings are informal, but all information is kept private. This type of mediation can occur over the telephone or in person, if possible. The fact that an appeal was filed is public, however.
If the parties reach an agreement, the party filing the appeal withdraws it, but only after the individual or entity that requested the information believes the agency involved complied with the terms of the agreement reached during mediation. Thereafter, the OOR acknowledges that the appeal was resolved through mediation. It does not outline the details of the agreement reached.
The parties may want to use mediation instead of a public appeal for a variety of reasons. Perhaps the sensitivity of the request under the Right to Know Law makes this method of resolution attractive. Whatever the reason, the requesting party could benefit from the experience of an attorney who understands this law and can work to help achieve a satisfactory agreement.