Open and shut: Pa. should keep its advocate on public records

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Six years ago, when Pennsylvania was opening its Office of Open Records and needed an expert to run the fledgling department, the state found one in Terry Mutchler.

Ms. Mutchler started her career as a newspaper and wire service reporter, became a lawyer and then, for four years beginning in 2004, was Illinois’ first public access counselor, working with government agencies, residents and the press on open government issues. She had the right resume for Pennsylvania’s quasi-judicial agency, which enforces the state’s open records law, conducts training sessions for officials and handles any disputed requests.

Since her appointment by former Gov. Ed Rendell, Ms. Mutchler has demonstrated that she also has the right temperament and work ethic for the position. Under her leadership, the office has fielded 50,000 telephone and email inquiries and handled more than 8,000 appeals of decisions made by municipal and state officials, including 500 that led to court challenges.

Ms. Mutchler has been a valuable resource to newspapers, including this one, and government agencies and officeholders across Pennsylvania. She has defined her mission as supporting and advancing openness in government, regardless of politics. Appointed by a Democrat, she nonetheless offers, without prompting, the assessment that Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration has been accommodating and cooperative.

Her future, and that of the office’s direction, now is in Mr. Corbett’s hands.

Ms. Mutchler’s six-year appointment has expired, but she remains in place, waiting for the governor to announce whether he will re-appoint her or name someone else instead. It is a credit to her approach, knowledge and professionalism that lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle have issued statements of support, including Republican Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, who was lead sponsor of the state’s 2008 Right to Know Law.

This should be an easy call for Mr. Corbett: Re-appoint Terry Mutchler to another six-year term.

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