Montgomery County's controller and commissioners feud over records - again

Montgomery County's often feuding commissioners have found at least one thing on which they can agree - their frustration with Controller Diane Morgan.

In what may be a first, the commissioners say they have been forced to file right-to-know requests to view their own government contracts. For weeks, Morgan has held the documents hostage in a dispute with the county's top elected officials, Commissioners Chairman James R. Matthews said.

Morgan - no stranger to conflict with the commissioners' board - described this latest move Wednesday as an act of pure political theater.

"I just can't fathom what they're thinking," she said. "They don't have to file open-records requests. The scanned contracts are all available on county computers."

The dispute began last month when the commissioners learned that several contracts with vendors had been scanned and posted on the county website without sensitive information such as personal e-mail correspondence and the location of security cameras in secure county facilities having been deleted.

The board ordered the contracts taken down and pointed the finger at Morgan. Her office serves as custodian for all county records, and in a recent annual report she touted her staff's work to make government more transparent by putting contracts online.

Morgan fought back. Although she had scanned the documents for internal use, she had never authorized their posting on the county's public website, she said.

"My unfinished pilot program was commandeered and posted," she said. "I couldn't believe it. We certainly hadn't reviewed those documents."

But in recent weeks, Morgan has refused to let commissioners' staff review the original files in her office, said Robert Graf, the county's top administrator, who is leading an effort to reexamine the documents for re-posting without the offending information. He argued that he needed access to the originals because several of the scanned copies on the county's internal network contain mistakes.

Morgan maintains she offered to let anyone review those contracts in person but only while supervised by a member of her staff.

"There's a problem here - a failure to communicate," Matthews said Wednesday. "So we're going to make an open-records request like any citizen can."

Since taking office in 2008, Morgan has become the commissioners' frequent sparring partner. The board and her office have sued each other three times in disputes over contracts and funding.

The back-and-forth has taken a personal turn at times.

In an e-mail to reporters last month, Morgan demanded an apology from Commissioner Bruce L. Castor after the Norristown Times Herald quoted him as saying: "No amount of money can make her competent. We can't put in what God left out."

Castor not only refused but also piled on in his reply:

"I meant every word and stand by them," he wrote. "I have worked for the county 25 years, and in my view, you are the single most inept performer I've seen here."


Contact staff writer Jeremy Roebuck at 267-564-5218 or jroebuck@phillynews.com.