Are you bored? Would you like to have some fun with a public records request? I thought you might. To play this game, the first thing you need to know is that the public records law in Pennsylvania is flawed. It allows schools like Penn State that hoover up tax dollars to avoid public scrutiny. That's bad for a lot of reasons made obvious by the Jerry Sandusky scandal. The second thing to know about the public records law in Pennsylvania is that the people who process the requests usually don't want to process them. And sometimes they stonewall you for no good reason other than that they suck bird. I offer you the example of the Clinton County DA's office in Lock Haven, Pa.
On Nov. 29, I faxed a request to the DA's office asking for any investigatory records connected to Jerry Sandusky (a long shot, considering it's an ongoing investigation). I also asked for any public records requests sent to the office by other members of the media looking for information on Jerry Sandusky. We do these records requests of records requests from time to time.
On Dec. 1, the DA issued a blanket denial, making me think he hadn't even read my request. On Dec. 8, I re-filed just the records request of records requests—the same one that had been denied. That day, to my surprise, the DA arrived at a different determination:
In response to your correspondence dated December 8, 2011 and received in my office via fax the same date, your request is granted.
Success! I'd asked for any requests filed by the media with the DA's office since Jan. 1, 2008 and hoped to find several, given that the Sandusky investigation began in Clinton County in 2008. But the envelope was perilously thin. Inside, I found only one request. Here it is:
To recap: The only records request that the DA's office had received since Jan. 1, 2008, was my request for records requests.
I suppose it's possible that in three years I'm the only reporter to submit a Sandusky public records request. But I kind of doubt it, given that the Clinton County DA's office has a gunman on the premises to cool out nosy parkers. After that, a rift in the spacetime opened up and devoured all matter.