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Altoona Mirror (Newspaper) - March 4, 2001, Altoona, Pennsylvania Altmma iJKrror Copyright 2001 SUNDAY, MARCH 4, 2001 newsstand IN NATION Georgia military plane crash kills 21 IN LIFE Hollidaysburg woman breeding rare horses FIRST OF FIVE PARTS Public records often off-limits Many area court, police, government agencies bend or ignore the state's public access laws Open-and-shut How area agenc on compliance w fared in a six-rr th the slate's Rigr Document Mirror t to Know la Agencies w: Complied with the law 0 Dislrict School Stories by Jay Young Illustrations by Tom Worthington II With a few exceptions, area government officials don't hesitate to bend or outright defy the state's Right to Know law, a six-month Altoona Mirror inves- tigation shows. While legislation will be pro- posed this month to strengthen the 1957 law, Right to Know was designed to guarantee the public access to information about its police, schools, municipalities and other government agencies. But local police and municipal officials often opt to use their own rules and ignore the law, the Mirror investigation found. Those who did supply the information sometimes harassed and threat- ened the person requesting the documents. Mirror reporter Jay Young entered more than 40 area govern- ment agencies during the six- month investigation to request public documents. Young, an Altoona resident, did not identify himself as a reporter, since the law only requires a per- son to be a Pennsylvania resident to obtain public documents. He often met confrontational officials with little knowledge of public records laws and minimal interest in finding the appropriate respsonse to the request Others were determined to avoid full dis- closure of documents. Of the 47 agencies visited, only 20 42 percent fully complied with the law. That's a worse track record than was uncovered in a similar statewide investigation in 1999 in which one-third of agencies didn't comply. In the Mirror's investigation, state police were the most defiant. Please see A6 What we did and why we did it. What's an open record, what's off- limits? What are some of the standards courts have used in deciding? PAGE A6 Police use press releases to decide what details are released. THE SERIES Today: A six-month Mirror investi- gation finds that many area police and government officials don't hesi- tate to bend or defy the state's Right to Know law. Area police agencies are among the most prevalent violators. Monday: Many schools don't play by the public access rules, but there are some exceptions. Tuesday: Getting your hands on a supposedly public court document can be difficult. Wednesday: Your tax money helps local municipalities pay their bills, right? So getting a look at those bills should be DO problem, right? Thursday: There's a proposal on the fable to strengthen Pennsylvania's Right to Know law. YOURTHOUGHTS? The Mirror is seeking reader reaction to our series on access to public records in the region. Have you had an experience where you couldn't get a document that you thought should have been public record? Contact Mirror Staff Writer Jay Young at 946-7535 or and tell us about it. If you'd like to write a letter to the editor on the subject, it can be sent to us in several ways: Mail: Letters to the Editor Altoona Mirror 301 Cayuga Ave. Altoona, PA 16603 Fax: 946-7540 E-mail: Area police agencies among worst violators The line between those who enforce the law and those who break it blurred recently when area police were asked to provide public records. None oif the nine police stations visited during a six- month Mirror investigation fully complied with the state Right to Know law when asked to provide docu- ments that any resident has a right to view. As part of the investigation, Mirror reporter Jay Young entered eight state police barracks and the Altoona Police Department and requested to view a spe- cific initial incident report and the police blotter. The initial incident report is a nuts-and-bolts account of an incident, while the blotter is a record of each call in which police respond. Without the blotter, there is no way for the public to know what the police are doing. While state troopers in Ebensburg declined to provide access to any incident report, they did provide a police- blotter for a three-day period. The trooper on duty said such records are maintained for three days. The log included the date, time and basic description of each incident police responded to during that period. But that wasn-'t the story at other locations, where police seemed more interested in finding possible ways that the the person requesting the documents was involved in the crime. The other barracks visited were Indiana, Rockview, Hollidaysburg, Huntingdon, Philipsburg, Clearfield and Punxsutawney. Please see A6 NASTY NOR'EASTER Winter storm looms However, forecasters say most of the snowfall will stay to the east of Altoona. BY TIFFANY SHAW Staff Writer Saturday's sunny skies and mild tempera- tures teased area residents, making a huge snowstorm seem impossible. Not so, say meteorologists, who are fore- casting a total of 12 to 18 inches of snow for the Altoona area today and Monday: However, predictions are for the Altoona region to miss the worst of the storm. The mountains in Maryland will see more accu- mulation and the eastern Pennsylvania counties will experience strong winds and possible flooding. Although warmer weather in March prompts thoughts of spring, it actually induces more snow in some cases, like the storm expected today, meteorologists say. The area gets its biggest snowstorms when the south gets warm and the north remains cold, says Accuweather meteorologist Paul Pastelok of State College. Storms coming from the warm, moist southern jet stream clash with the colder northern jet streams and create memorable snowfalls like the blizzard of 1993. Please see A4 Teachers to rally in Harrisburg BY JAY YOUNG Staff Writer Teachers from Hollidaysburg and Altoona school districts are planning join thousands from around the state today in a Harrisburg rally for public education as the last generation of teachers did 33 years ago. The march is being sponsored by the Pennsylvania State Education Association, just like the March 4, 1968, event was. Teachers from Hollidaysburg and Altoona planned to leave for Harrisburg this morning. Tom Fanelli, president of the Altoona schools teacher association, said about 70 area teachers have registered to participate. The teachers will travel to voice their opposition to vouchers for private schools and emphasizing the need for alternative and early childhood programs. Please see A4 Norfolk Southern workers upset by bonuses given to management BY CRAIG WILLIAMS StaffWriter The news that Norfolk Southern Corp. will pay 36 percent bonuses to its man- agement personnel has upset local union workers. But a company spokesman said bonuses are a normal way of compen- sating nonhourly employees for their performance. Workers question the company's motives, as news of the raises comes as the company makes plans to close the Hollidaysburg Car Shop Sept. 1. "Obviously, we were very angry local- said Tom Lntton, president of Local 27 of the Transportation Workers Union, which represents 221 carmen at the shop. Lutton said union workers don't think the railroad has performed well enough even to consider providing bonuses to executives. "What really disturbs us is that they are even paying a he said. "They have totally failed to operate a railroad in the same way that Corn-ail was efficient." News of the bonus came when an internal memo was leaked to the Roanoke Times newspaper last week. Please see A4 Central High School's Laura Beach (14) drives for the basket during the Lady Scarlet Dragons' game against Richland Saturday at St. Francis University. Beach had 5 points on the night as Central captured the District 6 Class AA girls' championship, 36-29. IN SPORTS: BASKETBALL: Central girls, Altoona boys and Northern. Cambria boys all win District 6 titles, while Altoona girls lose a heartbreaker in double overtime. Page C1 WRESTLING: Claysburg duo wins second-straight Southwest Class AA regional titles. C1 Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec Subscription or home delivery questions: 946-7480 or (800) 287-4480 4 8 7 I Lottery numbers, A2 Cloudy, snowy, Forecast, A2 TREE FINANCE CHARGES UNTIL MAR. 2002 W HICKORY HILL LIVING ROOM ELEGANT CAMEL-BACK SOFA ReMilSH69 ANNIVERSARY PRICE H22 Q LOCAL AB Hospitals AS Obituaries A9 Opinion A7 Outdoors Scoreboard QUK i Astrograph Movies Newsmakers B2 i Puzzles Strange Brew B6 Travel C9 C7 D4 D3 D4 D6 Stocks E2, 3 CDs, Mutuals E4 Q Couples vYesteryear 02 v 03 ;