Court: Wolf Wrong to Fire Open Records Chief

Commonwealth Court panel says Office of Open Records is independent of governor's authority.

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Gov. Tom Wolf isn’t having much luck on the personnel front this week.

Two days after the Pennsylvania Senate rejected his nomination to lead the State Police, a Commonwealth Court panel on Wednesday ruled Wolf was wrong to fire the state’s new open records chief right after he took office earlier this year. The court ordered Erik Arneson, who had been appointed to the post by then-Gov. Tom Corbett shortly before Corbett left office, be reinstated to the job, complete with back pay for time missed during the legal battle.

“We find clear legislative intent that the Executive Director of OOR, an independent body, is insulated from the Governor’s power to remove appointees at will,” the court said in its ruling. (See full ruling below.)

Wolf had argued that he was free to fire Arneson because his position appoints the OOR director and no statutory language prohibits him from also firing. But Arneson — backed by legislative Republicans — argued that the position’s six-year term (compared to the governor’s), combined with the OOR’s quasi-judicial ability to issue rulings unfavorable to a governor, argued for the office’s independence.

PennLive reports: “But Jeffrey Sheridan, Wolf’s press secretary, said the governor’s position ‘has not changed: He was within his rights to dismiss Erik Arneson, we disagree with the court’s decision and we will file an appeal.'”