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Governor shedding some light on schedule, contracts

HARRISBURG

Last week, we told you here that Tom Wolf said he'd be a different kind of governor and he immediately started playing hardball politics like his former boss, Democrat Gov. Ed Rendell. While there's evidence he's doing just that, he's also made some moves toward greater transparency — perhaps more than any other governor.

Wolf is making his schedule available daily via email to the media, the day before events — even when he has no events. Other governors, including Republican Tom Corbett and Rendell, would put out some events but usually when it suited them.

The weekly calendar of where Wolf was and what he did is truly novel. Wolf puts it out on Fridays.

Under Corbett, it took a lawsuit by The Associated Press to obtain the calendars.

Corbett failed to justify redaction of certain material, Commonwealth Court held. Corbett's office redacted portions it claimed were exempt under the Right to Know law.

The AP later reported that the governor's office blacked out 17 emails and 28 calendar entries in early 2011, including the subjects of scheduled meetings, on grounds that the information could suggest the nature of private internal deliberations.

Wolf is making those kinds of records public online. There are some redactions on cellphone numbers and email. But an entry for March 6 lists Wolf's travel to the Lehigh Valley, and later to Philadelphia, the times of those trips, the four staffers on a conference call with the governor. Also listed: a meeting with Chief of Staff Katie McGinty on nominations, a meeting with McGinty and the William Penn Foundation in Philly on an American Revolution museum.

Wolf's office last month sent me a public bid that had been posted to secure an outside law firm to handle the state's negotiations with unions whose contracts expire by July 1. Over three years, the Office of General Counsel under Corbett spent more than $100 million on outside law firms. These were typically no-bid contracts. Opponents have long contended competition would reduce costs.

Upon taking office, Wolf issued an executive order banning no-bid legal contracts.

“This process is designed to improve transparency and enhance public perception that the selection of outside counsel is fair and free of political influences or other improper considerations,” says the Office of General Counsel's web page.

For decades, legal work for the state — including bond counsel — has been a haven for pinstripe patronage. Law firms that gave big bucks to a governor's campaign often got fat contracts. Democrats did it. Republicans did it.

Whether cellphone numbers and email should be redacted is debatable. State email addresses, in my opinion, should be listed anyway.

The idea of banning no-bid legal contracts is new. It begs watching on how it works and how often “exceptions” are granted.

Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media's state Capitol reporter. Reach him at 717-787-1405 or [email protected].


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