What's Rendell hiding in Visitor Center free-speech fight?

Gov. Rendell's office is appealing an order by the state Office of Open Records to make public meeting minutes, memos and documents from the Independence Visitor Center Corp. board's secret meetings.

Rendell controls a seat on the taxpayer-subsidized center's board. Jonathan Bari, owner of Constitutional Walking Tours, is trying to figure out why his company is relegated to a small spot in the back of the building while the (currently suspended) Ride the Ducks tour service and other bus tours get all the high-traffic spots. He figured the governor was a good guy to ask.

Bari has won two orders from the Open Records office ordering Rendell to release the documents. But Rendell's staff attorneys have appealed, saying they shouldn't be forced to reveal what goes on over there on Independence Mall when real estate is being apportioned to for-profit entities in a no-bid process. Rendell spokesman Gary Tuma wasn't immediately available when I called to ask why.

Independence is paying Rendell's old law firm, Ballard Spahr, to file friend-of-the-court briefs opposing disclosure. The case is Officer of the Governor vs Jonathan Bari, in Commonwealth Court, 2123 CD 2010.

Bari asked for similar records from Philadelphia, where Mayor Nutter controls a board seat. The city is also oposing that request, in Common Pleas Court (May Term 2010 case 152). Appeal briefs in that case are due by Nov. 1.