Erik Arneson (Associated Press photo)
Attorneys for Gov. Tom Wolf have outlined their arguments ahead of tomorrow's hearing in the lawsuit contesting his firing of Erik Arneson from the Office of Open Records.
The brief from the attorney general's office argues that:
1) The director of the Office of Open Records is an at-will employee.
There is no provision of the RTKL that -- by express terms or necessary implication -- limits the power of the Governor to remove the executive director at his pleasure as allowed by Pa. Const. art. VI, § 7. Thus, under the Constitution and the principles set forth in 2
Venesky v. Ridge, the Governor has the authority under law to remove the
Executive Director of OOR without specifying a reason.
2) They don't think Arneson is necessarily very qualified for the job.
Neither a lawyer nor an individual possessed of degrees in public policy or
public administration, Arneson most recently had served for a long time as staff to
then-Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi. When Senator Pileggi was ousted
from his leadership position by members of the Senate Majority Caucus in
November 2014, Arneson was displaced from his position on the Majority
Leader’s senior staff and found himself in need of new employment. Arneson
found it in OOR in the waning days of the administration of Governor Tom
3) Senate Republicans should be dismissed from the case.
Put simply, because the RTKL provides the Caucus with no role regarding the selection or removal of the Executive Director, its claims are nothing more than a generalized complaint
about how government is functioning. The Caucus lacks standing to make such a
4) This isn't a constitutional issue -- it's a "garden-variety 'wrongful termination' claim."
As to Arneson, despite the rhetoric of statutory constitutional violations, this is ultimately a garden-variety “wrongful termination” claim through which Arneson seeks to be reinstated to the position of Executive Director of OOR.
5) Acting Executive Director Nathan Byerly should be able to do a fine job.
Acting Executive Director Byerly is more than capable of ensuring that OOR continues to operate properly. It is undisputed that Byerly has worked at the OOR, in some capacity, since almost its inception. Unlike Arneson, who has scant credentials to serve as Executive Director and would have to learn how the officefunctions, who the staff is, and how decisions are made, Byerly has the necessary experience to serve as the Acting Deputy Executive Director.
We'll hear more tomorrow morning in Commonwealth Court.