By Melissa Daniels | PA Independent
HARRISBURG — When Gov. Tom Corbett is on an international trade mission, you’ll know exactly where to find him.
It might even be easier than when he’s in Harrisburg.
Corbett is on a trade mission to Brazil and Chile, a privately funded, 10-day enterprise meant to raise Pennsylvania’s profile abroad and to focus on creating jobs.
The governor’s press office has released to the media detailed itineraries for the first two days of Corbett’s day-to-day activities.
Those have included a meeting with San Paolo Vice Governor Guilherme Afif Domingos, a Pennsylvania tourism promotion luncheon and private meetings with Brazilian companies, all listed by time.
According to the itinerary, Corbett had about eight hours worth of engagements on Tuesday.
But no daily schedule gets distributed when Corbett is out and about in Pennsylvania, or even in Harrisburg.
Corbett’s public appearances throughout the state are preceded by media advisories, much in the way the trade mission itineraries were sent out. But they are not available to the public.
The governor’s office does not add these to the list of news releases it otherwise makes public. Other engagements, like meetings with business owners, are not made public.
Speaking from Sao Paolo, Corbett took about 40 minutes out of his schedule Tuesday to host a conference call with reporters in Pennsylvania. When asked if he would continue to release this daily schedule upon return to the state, Corbett said, “I’ll consider it.”
When it comes to notifying the public of a governor’s whereabouts, states differ.
In North Carolina, Gov. Pat McCory’s public schedule is listed on his website, indicating whether the event is open to the media.
Florida, which is sometimes commended for state government transparency, also goes public with Gov. Rick Scott’s schedule. A week-by-week or month-by-month calendar is available that displays Scott’s daily itinerary. The governor’s press office also sends out the governor’s public schedule every day, via an email blast to subscribers.
But Corbett’s administration considers at least some of Pennsylvania governor’s whereabouts outside the realm of public view.
A pending case in Commonwealth Court on an appeal filed by the administration against Associated Press Capitol reporter Mark Scolforo centers on calendar dates and emails that were not released in response to a Right-to-Know request.
While some information was turned over, some was redacted, citing exemptions in the state’s Right-to-Know law. The response was appealed and the matter wound up in court.
Last year the Commonwealth Court ruled the unreleased records would be reviewed by the Office of Open Records behind closed doors before determining if they could be made public. Corbett’s office appealed that decision, and the Commonwealth Court heard a second round of arguments in February.
The lawsuit spawned several editorials from Pennsylvania newspapers, including The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Patriot-News, the Philadelphia Daily News and Chambersburg Public Opinion. The pieces are critical of Corbett’s decision to hold back his schedule and cite the potential chilling effect this could have on state transparency.
“We understand that transparency cramps the exciting, whirlwind dealmaking over the finer points of corporate tax exemptions, not to mention lobbying — often driven by dark money — for dubious public policy,” read the Chambersburg Public Opinion piece. “But we don’t think it’s too much to ask to know where our governor goes, and who has his ear. Indeed, the schedules of elected executives have historically been subject to such reporting for just that very reason.”
Contact Melissa Daniels at firstname.lastname@example.org
Correction: This article was updated to reflect the status of Gov. Deval Patrick of Massachusetts. UPDATE: This story was updated at 11:00 a.m. on Wednesday, April 16 to clarify the status of the Right-to-Know case of Office of the Governor v. Mark Scolforo.