Saturday, September 20, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

State officials' resumes should be available to the public

An IOM editorial in the Daily News:

State officials' resumes should be available to the public

Children in the Chester Upland school system deserve more than state education officials´ pity. But the Corbett administration so far has refused to help. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Children in the Chester Upland school system deserve more than state education officials' pity. But the Corbett administration so far has refused to help. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

An IOM editorial in the Daily News:

WE UNDERSTAND the Corbett administration is embarrassed by the revelation that a former top aide at the Department of Public Welfare holds views on gender equality that would make Don Draper blush.

But that's no excuse for the contempt the administration is showing for Pennsylvanians by refusing to release the resumés of other top aides in the department.

To review how this came up: the Inquirer reported this week that DPW special assistant Robert W. Patterson held a side job with a conservative journal, in which he argued, among other things, that condoms are bad for women because they deprive them of valuable, confidence-boosting semen. He also believes in the sanctity of the traditional family, as "the Creator intended." Patterson resigned before the Inquirer published the story.

When the Inquirer requested the resumés of other top department deputies. DPW refused, saying that personnel files are confidential. Religion is at the center of the Howard Center, where Patterson works as editor. It's fair to wonder how right it is for his extreme views to help shape a policy - in Patterson's case, welfare policy - that will affect so many in need. And we can't help but be disturbed by the contempt Patterson must have held, given his beliefs, for many of the clients served by the department.

Refusing to let taxpayers view the qualifications of the people working for them is an outrage, and exhibits a misunderstanding of the relationship between taxpayers and government.

It's not clear whether DPW has violated the state's right-to-know law in this case. The Office of Open Records has classified resumés as public records before, but the law contains exemptions specifically for personnel files that the agency might be able to cite as legal justification for its decision.

But to delve deep into the technical details here misses the point: Of course the resumés of high-ranking officials should be available to any member of the public who requests them. State officials work for taxpayers (pointing this out gets tiresome after a while). Top officials in particular are well-compensated, with terrific benefits - including the three for whom resumés were requested, whose annual salaries range from $89,000 to $102,000.

Taxpayers have a right to know what background and expertise - including educational background and past affiliations - public servants at any pay grade bring to the table that qualifies them to work for us.

When Pennsylvania's right-to-know law went into effect in 2009, it dramatically improved what was widely regarded as one of the worst open-records policies of any state in the country.

The Corbett administration, by refusing to release these resumés not only sets back this transparency, but also makes us wonder: What are they trying to hide?

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