Thursday, April 17, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

"Excuse me, Ms. Ackerman? Someone has asked to see your buyout agreement again."

One part of former superintendent Arlene Ackerman’s buyout agreement that we found particularly fascinating — one of many — is the requirement that the School District tap her on the shoulder every time someone asks for a copy of that agreement.

"Excuse me, Ms. Ackerman? Someone has asked to see your buyout agreement again."

One part of former superintendent Arlene Ackerman’s buyout agreement that we found particularly fascinating — one of many — is the requirement that the School District tap her on the shoulder every time someone asks for a copy of that agreement.

Under the buyout, the School District released the buyout agreement to the media immediately following its ratification last week. But now, the District can only hand it over in response to official Open Records Law requests. Plus, Ackerman and her lawyer must be told who is asking for it.

We thought this was a little, um, crazy, so we asked state Office of Open Records executive director Terry Mutchler if other public officials have done this in the past.

Mutchler said while it is completely legal for the district to sign such an agreement, it is “not routine.” Out of the 3,000 cases that have come before her office, she said “less than three” have involved high-level public officials who asked to be notified if someone requested a record about them.

Interestingly, though, Mutchler said that when her office provides training to state and local agencies about Pennsylvania’s open-records law, government employees routinely ask if they can be informed when people request documents about them. Most of the time, though, they don’t go through with it. That’s what makes Ackerman and the School District unique.

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Every year, city government spends slightly more than $4 billion. Where does all that money come from? More importantly, where does it go? Are we getting the most bang for our tax buck? “It's Our Money” is a joint project between Philadelphia Daily News and WHYY, funded by the William Penn Foundation, designed to answer these questions.

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