Right to Know Law: A Brief Overview
The Right to Know Law (RTKL) was designed to make government documents more accessible to the public. By filling out a request form, you can request documents from any government agency.
The RTKL governs the release of documents, but it does not answer questions. This can sometimes create a problem: you may know the information you’re looking for, but not know what documents you
need to get that information. This is a great time to pick up the phone and call the Agency Open Records Officer (AORO), the person who is responsible for responding to RTK requests.
Items to keep in mind:
- AOROs can ask why you want documents, but you are not required to answer.
- The RTKL only governs existing documents, and does not force the AORO to create a document if it doesn’t already exist.
- If you want paper copies of documents, there are fees involved.
Once you submit a request, the AORO has five business days to respond. The countdown starts the day after the request is received. For example, if a request is submitted on Friday, May 14, 2021, the AORO must respond by Friday, May 21, 2021. For large RTK requests, the AORO can invoke a 30-day extension.
Agency Open Records Officers can respond to a request in four ways: granted, part granted/part denied, denied, or misdirected. Regarding part or full denials, the RTKL has provisions that prevent the release of certain information. Some common examples of withheld information are birthdays, social security numbers, and personal phone numbers. It is the burden of the agency to prove why records are not public, so if you receive a denial or part denial, the AORO’s response must include why records were withheld or information was redacted. A misdirected response means you’ve submitted your request to the wrong agency.
If you receive a response and want to file an appeal (i.e., you don’t agree with the response, you believe information has been incorrectly redacted, etc.), the appeal must be submitted to the Office of Open Records within 15 business days of the mailing date of the agency’s response.
For additional information, the Office of Open Records – www.openrecords.pa.gov – is a great resource, or you can browse our township page at https://smithfieldtownship.com/resources/right-to-know-records/