Monday, January 26, 2015

Letters Extra: Bound by law on disclosures

Mayor says he remains "committed to open and transparent government, and we practice it every day, but we also observe the law."

Letters Extra: Bound by law on disclosures

A grand jury is investigating the deadly collapse of a building on Market Street.
A grand jury is investigating the deadly collapse of a building on Market Street.

 More often than anyone would like, news-gathering and commentary can take on a whisper-down-the-lane quality where a misstatement or omission grows into a glaring inaccuracy. That's certainly the case with an Inquirer editorial Wednesday ("Ministry of information").

Neither an earlier news story nor the editorial mentioned that District Attorney Seth Williams has assembled a grand jury to investigate the building collapse at 22d and Market Streets. The release of any documents or details by the city must now await the conclusion of that inquiry. This fact apparently didn't fit with the agenda, which was to accuse my administration of a pattern of "stonewalling."

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Nor did The Inquirer disclose that the Wagenhoffer family specifically asked that the two videos recorded on the phone of deceased city inspector Ron Wagenhoffer not be released, or that those videos are also part of the grand jury investigation. And regarding litigation settlement memoranda, The Inquirer conveniently failed to identify the August 2012 Commonwealth Court case (City of Pittsburgh v. Silver), which concluded the Right to Know Law does not trump lawyer-client privilege as contained under the state constitution.

These Law Department memoranda, taken together and over time, would be a treasure trove for any lawyer wanting to sue the city. We're not going to provide the playbook for our litigation strategies. And as The Inquirer grudgingly noted, Terry Mutchler, the state open records director, and the lawyer for the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association both agreed with our legal posture.

I remain committed to open and transparent government, and we practice it every day, but we also observe the law. Anything else would be irresponsible, and no doubt costly to the taxpayers whom we represent.

Michael A. Nutter, mayor, City of Philadelphia

About this blog

The Inquirer Editorial Board's Say What? opinion blog showcases the work of the editors and writers who produce the newspaper's daily and Sunday opinion pages.

Find out more about The Inquirer's Editorial Board here.

The Inquirer Editorial Board
Also on Philly.com
Stay Connected