Future uncertain for Open Records chief

Her term officially expired Thursday, but the state's open records tsar was back at work Friday uncertain of what the future holds for her in that role.

Terry Mutchler was appointed by Gov. Rendell in 2008 to a six-year-term as the first director of the newly created Office of Open Records. Her official end date came and went with no action by the current governor, Tom Corbett.

Mutchler, a lawyer and former journalist, said she is proud of her record and would like to stay on for another term, but understands she serves at the pleasure of the governor.

Gov. Corbett's spokesman, Jay Pagni, praised Mutchler, but would not indicate whether Corbett would reappoint her or speculate on when an announcement would come.

"The Office of Open Records under the leadership of Terry Mutchler has ushered in a new era of government transparency and accountability to the taxpayer of Pennsylvania," said Pagni. " While her official appointment. ends April.24, she’s expected to serve until such time if or when a qualified successor is named."

In its first six years, Mutchler's office handled roughly 10,000 appeals to state and local agency cases and 500 court appeals, not to mention the hundreds of hours on the road she and her staff spent giving presentations about the law to an array of citizen groups and government agencies.

She says while her office may have gotten off to what she described as a "rocky start" with GOP officials in the Corbett administration, she knocked heads with Democrats in the Rendell administration too when the office first opened..

Even so, she may have rankled some nerves with the governor and his inner circle with her public remarks criticizing Corbett's comments last fall about gay marriage. Mutchler, the state's highest ranking openly gay official, said Corbett's comparing gay marriage to the marriage of brothers and sisters in a broadcast interview was "very sad" and reflected an "overt meanness."

But Mutchler has strong support from one of the legislature's top Republicans, who made no secret of how he feels about her reappointment.

Sen. Dominic Pileggi (R., Delaware) said under Mutchler's leadership the office had become "one of the most respected agencies of its type in the nation.”

“When we enacted the new Open Records Law in 2008, I knew that the first executive director would be critical to determining its success or failure. I’m very pleased that the law has become an overwhelming success, due in large part to Terry’s dedicated leadership," said Pileggi in a statement. “Filling the position of executive director requires a person with unimpeachable integrity, unwavering fairness, and a strong work ethic – all qualities which Terry possesses.”

Sen. John Blake (D., Lackawanna) issued his statement of support late Friday, saying he has been familiar with Mutchler's work since she started. 

"[As a senior executive at the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development in 2008] I had the opportunity to witness the early implementation of the new law under Terry Mutchler. She demonstrated capable leadership and I have been impressed with her as the workload of the new office has grown over the year," he said. “I have every confidence in her abilities and I believe that she deserves every consideration to continue to lead the mission of the Office of Open Records.”

Mutchler says she would like to continue her work in a second term and doesn't view her position as partisan. "It shouldn't matter if you are a D or an R," she said. "You have to be an O, for open records."

If she is not reappointed Mutchler says she will have plenty to do with the release of her memoir and book tour this fall.

The book, "Under this Beautiful Dome, a Senator, a Journalist and the Politics of Gay Love in America," tells the story of her romantic relationship with Illinois state Senator Penny Severns long before gay marriage was legalized anywhere in the country, but also when, in the world of politics, the couple was forced to keep their relationship secret.



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