The state budget is still up in the air, but a smaller feud has been resolved — and it's a loss for Gov. Tom Wolf.
The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania issued a decision this morning overruling Wolf's firing of Erik Arneson, the executive director of the state Office of Open Records (OOR).
Technically, the court affirmed a decision by a lower-level appeals court that deemed Arneson's firing and ordered him returned to office.
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"Affirmed. I like the sound of that word," Arneson tweeted this morning.
The court's decision stated that the OOR is a "unique, independent agency"
Arneson, former spokesman for state sen. Dominic Pileggi (R-Chester and Delaware counties) was appointed to a six-year term at the $140,000-a-year job on Jan. 13 by former Gov. Tom Corbett, just days before Wolf took office.
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Wolf fired Arneson on Jan. 20, the day he was sworn in to office as governor. Arneson immediately protested that a governor could not fire an OOR director.
He argued that legislation creating the agency, which was created to release certain state records to the public and maintain government transparency, protected the director from at-will firings by a governor -- and he kept going into work at the office.
At the time, Wolf said the last-minute appointment by Corbett had not been "transparent." Arneson denounced the firing as a "nuclear assault on the independence" of the OOR. Arneson and the Senate Republican Caucus quickly sued Wolf to get Arneson's job back. After the Commonwealth Court ruled in Arneson's favor in June, Wolf allowed Arneson to return to work in June.
Now, the matter is settled in the state's highest court. Supreme Court justices Thomas Saylor, Michael Eakin and Max Baer, all Republicans, voted in favor of Arneson. Only Justice Debra Todd, a Democrat, dissented, finding tha Wolf acted properly within his executive authority.
"I believe the Office of Open Records must be independent to work as it was intended, and I’m thrilled the Supreme Court agreed," Arneson wrote on his blog. "I’m excited to continue working as the head of this office. It’s an incredible team."
Gov. Wolf's office released a statement saying it "looks forward" to work with Arneson.
“The Wolf Administration looks forward to working with Mr. Arneson to promote transparency," the governor's office said in a statement. "Governor Wolf has already taken many steps to ensure government is ethical and open to the public including enacting a gift ban, reforming legal contracting, releasing his calendar each week and posting cabinet expenses online.”
Arneson's blog, " Open Records in Pennsylvania," includes public podcasts about subjects including common errors made in filing "Right-to-Know" requests for government agency records.