Office of Open Records Will Conduct Its Own Review of Redacted Palmer Elementary Emails

Harrisburg’s Office of Open Records has announced an in camera review will be performed on the 235 documents Easton Area School District (EASD) had previously fully redacted mostly due to attorney-client privilege. This means that OOR will receive the 235 redacted documents from EASD, review them in private, and release any information that should have been made public provided EASD cooperates by May 21, 2020.

In my January 19 letter to OOR’s Attorney Wolfe below, I also question whether the search found all responsive records since I found another 98 documents, mostly from my Right to Know Request to Palmer Township.

For some background, Eric Adams’ family has been threatened repeatedly by EASD for about 2 years. The EASD, in cooperation with the Palmer Township government, threatened the use of eminent domain to seize and destroy a good portion of his family’s property to dig up his yard to install 400 feet of sewer pipe, destroying some massive trees and installing a large boulder field, known as a rip rap apron, that may lead to additional flooding of his property.

The 2 governments have claimed this work, which would likely cost school district taxpayers an estimated $1 million, is needed for the new Palmer Elementary School, but engineers hired by Adams concluded the new stormwater system is totally unnecessary. They are doing this despite the fact that the new Palmer Elementary project will reduce the current site’s stormwater runoff by >50% without the million-dollar drainage system. Sounds unbelievable? You can view and listen to the EASD engineers’ January 7 update to the school board here. Included in the footage is Eric Adams addressing the board and myself informing the board of the issues I have been having with my RTKL requests.

January 19, 2020 Letter to Office of Open Records

Dear Attorney Wolfe –
Thank you for granting the in camera inspection of the 235 redacted emails. I agree to the May 21, 2020 extension so you can complete a thorough review.

At the January 7, 2020, school board meeting, the engineers confirmed that the delayed school construction is costing taxpayers $700,000 per year while on hold per the below link so I hope your findings will help the matter to come to a conclusion as the public certainly has no idea what is in those documents. 

Lastly, I received the new attestations received 1/16/2020 from both Attorney Young and the AORO [Agency Open Records Officer], Mr. Simonetta [see here and here]. I note that both of them provided voluntary statements under penalty of 18 PaCS 4904 for unsworn falsification. In my December 30, 2019, letter addressed to you but copied to both Attorney Young and Mr. Simonetta, I provided a list of 98 documents that EASD has not shared as responsive to my request.
These 98 documents were:

  • Not provided to me by EASD,
  • Not mentioned in the sworn affidavits as documents I provided to them myself. One of the 98 records was a May 22, 2018 email with a subject “Easton Area School District – Palmer Elementary School” from Attorney Faul to Attorney Bruno with AORO Mr. Simonetta and Attorney Freund copied. This letter specifically referred to the stormwater easement on the Adams property. While there were other emails from this day in the redaction log, this record was not listed in the redaction log, so therefore if the AORO had possession of this email sent to him, somehow it was decided it was not a responsive record. 

I continue to challenge that while EASD has conducted a search, EASD has not established that it conducted a search reasonably calculated to locate all responsive records. This does not mean that AORO was necessarily acting in bad faith, but my understanding is that an affidavit need not be made in bad faith to be found unreliable and the 98 documents I have located elsewhere are fatal to EASD’s position.
I would like to request that the OOR consider additional steps including requiring affidavits from each of the individual record-holders identified in the 32 EASD-provided emails, the 235 emails redacted by EASD, and the 98 emails I provided or requesting a more thorough search. I would be happy to generate a list of the record-holders whose affidavits would satisfy my request.

Kind regards, Jake Towne

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