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In an effort to check the transparency of the Nutter administration, AxisPhilly asked for data on all the Right to Know requests filed, answered or denied in 39 different departments since 2008.

Our goal was to do a scorecard on how responsive city government was to the law, which is designed to give citizens access to most records of public agencies.

As it turns out, making a scorecard is impossible because the administration doesn’t know much about Right to Know.

Only 12 of the 39 departments maintain records on the number of requests they’ve received. Most departments don’t know how many requests they have gotten.  They don’t know how many were approved.  They don’t know how many were denied. The Mayor’s Office and City Council are among those on the lengthy “Don’t Know” list of agencies.

Even among the dozen departments that do keep track, not all have done so since 2008, the year Pennsylvania’s new Right to Know law was signed by then-Gov. Ed Rendell.

City Department Number of open records requests received Kept track of records received since
Philadelphia Gas Commission 8 2008
Records Department 36 2008
Office of Inspector General 12 2008
Philadelphia Water Department 700 2008
Board of Ethics 51 2008
Office of Housing and Community Development 44 2008
Office of Property Assessment 150 2008
Department of Behavorial Health 40 2008
Office of Fleet Management 9 2010
Philadelphia Police Department 882 2009
Department of Licenses & Inspections 2286 2011
Philadelphia Law Department 2095* 2011

* The Law Department total reflects an unknown number of double-counts since it includes requests forwarded from other departments.

The Department of Licenses & Inspections, which started maintaining a running total of requests received in 2011, has received the most requests of the departments that keep track.

L&I reported receiving 2,286 requests since 2011. The Law department has received about 2,095 requests since February 2011, but that number incorporates requests forwarded from other departments so it reflects an unknown number of double-counts.

When inquiring about the requests that the city has granted and denied, the numbers became even more unknown.

Only two departments—L&I and the Board of Ethics—keep track of the number of requests that they grant and deny. Of the 1,976 requests received by L&I since 2012, 1,925 were granted and 51 were denied.  The Board of Ethics has received 51 requests since 2008: accepting 19, denying 27, partially granting and denying four requests; one request is currently pending.

The Law Department, acting on behalf of the 39 departments, denied AxisPhilly’s request for information about why requests were disposed of one way or the other by citing a complicated laundry list of exceptions, including that it “puts the City in the untenable position of implicitly commenting upon its actions as part of its response.”

As for the requests themselves, the city partially granted AxisPhilly’s inquiry for copies of the Right to Know requests, but it estimated the fee for copying, printing and redacting records identified would be $2,364. The city noted that the total cost could change once it has gathered all the records.

We have decided not to ask for the copies on the grounds that it would be too high a cost to pay to get just a fragment of the story.

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