Mt. Lebanon required to disclose deer hunt records
March 3, 2016 5:41 PM
Mt. Lebanon will be obligated to disclose its deer hunt records.
By John Hayes / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Mt. Lebanon has until March 23 to make public all communications regarding its recent controlled archery deer hunt.
The Pennsylvania Office of Open Records granted resident Elaine Gillen’s appeal challenging the municipality’s refusal to disclose the addresses and names of property owners who participated in the wildlife management program.
In another sticking point brought forward, Ms. Gillen says the municipality has a public safety obligation to inform neighbors of where archery hunting is taking place. The municipality claims it never asked for nor received those details from White Buffalo, the contractor hired to organize and manage the archery program. White Buffalo founder Anthony DeNicola says the open records request does not subpoena third-party records, and the state Game Commission insists the government cannot ask citizens what legal activities they’re engaged in on their properties.
The Open Records ruling requires Mt. Lebanon to provide all relevant e-mail messages within a month. Commissioners, municipal manager Keith McGill and solicitor Philip Weis are expected to discuss the matter in executive session March 8.
“At this point there’s nothing that will happen to this year’s deer management program,” said Mt. Lebanon spokeswoman Susan Morgans. “There’s a possibility that there might be an impact on next year’s program, if individual homeowners were reluctant to enroll their properties for fear of reprisal.”
Last year, opponents of a prior Mt. Lebanon deer control program trespassed and sabotaged equipment. No arrests were made. During the 2015-16 archery hunt, police arrested one woman for trespassing on a hunt property, and was cited by the Game Commission for disrupting a big game hunt.
As part of a plan to reduce deer-vehicle collisions by 50 percent in five years, Mt. Lebanon agreed to pay White Buffalo some $15,000 to organize and manage a controlled archery hunt during open deer seasons on public and private properties enrolled in the program.
Mt. Lebanon solicitor Philip Weis said that to his knowledge neither commissioners nor municipal staff have ever been in possession of the names and addresses included in the Open Records request. White Buffalo’s private records are not subject to Ms. Gillen’s request, he said, “because that’s not what she asked for.”
The language of the Open Records request calls for Mt. Lebanon to release, “all communications to and/or from municipal staff and, all communication to and/or from the commission concerning [the White Buffalo] archery program from July 31, 2015 through November 25, 2015.”
“This is the second OOR appeal that they granted,” she said.
Jason Raup, Game Commission assistant counsel, suggested that the U.S. Constitution trumps an Open Records ruling. The Pennsylvania General Assembly, he said, has many times confirmed that legal hunting is a safe activity permitted under state law.
“If someone complies with all aspects of the Wildlife Code, [legal hunting] cannot and will not be a safety hazard to someone in the community,” he said, in a prior interview concerning this case. “It’s no different than driving down the roadway. Is legal driving within the community unsafe? No.”
Mr. Raup said the Constitution protects landowners from government demands to know what legal activities are occurring on their properties.
“There is no requirement that landowners ever tell us where legal hunting is occurring on their property,” he said. “It would be a violation for the state to require that information.”
John Hayes: 412-263-1991, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here’s a file released by the state Office of Open Records:
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