The Fight for the Right to Know

It all started when a citizen blogger, who serves as a local government watchdog in Mt. Lebanon, PA, filed a “Right To Know.”  Elaine Gillen had filed dozens of Right To Know (RTK) requests in her 5+ years running her blog and website , seeking transparency and openness in a community where many believe big budgets are spent via secret handshakes.

But this RTK request was different.  This time, Elaine was seeking “all communications” (e-mails, documents) related to the latest iteration of Mt. Lebanon’s highly-contentious deer cull.  The e-mails would likely contain information about how particular elected officials were swayed to vote in favor of bow-hunting and sharpshooting, when previously these methods had been eschewed for many years.  Mt. Lebanon is a high-density suburb, and seeks to project an “erudite” image.  So what in the world would convince the Commissioners to vote for hunters from the woods roaming through the streets, parks, and backyards killing deer?  It was probably in the emails.

These public communications also might contain information regarding which property owners had allowed the municipality to hunt on their properties.  According to the municipality and White Buffalo, Inc. (their contracted deer killers), this taxpayer funded effort required not only the killing of deer on public lands, like golf courses and parks, but also necessitated homeowners permitting hunters to kill on private property.

Mt. Lebanon is a walking community. Our children are to abide by  Safe Walking Routes.

The Municipality of Mt. Lebanon encouraged interested parties to contact White Buffalo directly about the taxpayer funded archery program. The
August 25, 2015 Deer Management Update states:
Please do not contact Mt. Lebanon Municipality directly.

And it was here that the row began.  MTL denied Elaine’s RTK request.  They claimed it would put the private property owners who allowed the hunting at risk.  They said it wasn’t a public issue because the hunting was on private property.  And the Pennsylvania Open Records Office said to MTL: nonsense.  The threshold for withholding public information requires a serious threat of physical harm to individuals.  Further, the municipality’s argument that because previous culls had potentially been disrupted by saboteurs pouring urine around hunting sites (indicating to the deer to get the hell out of here) that now those who allowed hunting on their property now would be at risk of physical harassment had absolutely no validity.  Additionally, their contention that because the hunting was happening on private property it was not a public issue was also found to be ridiculous.  It was a taxpayer funded effort, initiated by elected officials.  It was public.  Elaine had a right to know.

On December 18th, the municipality appealed this decision, preparing to send it to ever-higher courts in order to hide their public deliberations. 

They think Elaine will give up – that they have worn her down.  She is a grandmother on Social Security, there’s no way she can afford a good lawyer.  We have the money, resources, and legal connections.  She has no chance.

But we must give Elaine a chance.  Our democracy is predicated on open-ness, and on a citizenry and press that holds those in power accountable for not abusing their power.  Please help support Elaine fighting for her right to know – for OUR right to know.  Open records must stay open.  We cannot let the well-connected and wealthy shut us out and shut the door closed on our constitutional rights to know.

Please support Elaine’s legal defense against the municipality of Mt. Lebanon, PA.

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Organizer

Elaine Trigg Gillen 
Organizer
Pittsburgh, PA
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