Arneson out as Pa. open records chief. Wolf appoints senior DePasquale aide to replace him

By: - January 11, 2021 2:18 pm

(*This story was updated at 7:50 a.m. on 1/12/21 to include comment from the Wolf administration)

Gov. Tom Wolf has tapped a senior aide to state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale to run the state’s Office of Open Records.

Outgoing Pa. Open Records Office Director Erik Arneson (Twitter)

Liz Gerloff Wagenseller will replace current open records chief Erik Arneson, whose six-year term expires this Wednesday. She’ll take over on Jan. 19, the administration said in a statement.

“Liz brings a wealth of experience to the Office of Open Records,” Wolf said in a statement. “She is an astute administrator with a deep commitment to transparency. Liz will be an asset to the Office of Open Records and a key player in my administration’s efforts to approve transparency in government.”

Wolf credited Arneson, a former journalist and long-serving Republican Senate aide, for the “hard work and dedication,” that was “critical to maintaining and improving the open records process.”

*In an email, administration spokeswoman Lyndsay Kensinger wrote that “Liz’s experience and commitment to transparency and accountability will help ensure the Office of Open Records will continue to fulfill its mission of enforcing the state’s open records law.”

*In a letter to Wolf, Arneson said he would have liked to have been reappointed, and said he looked forward to working with incoming Republican state Treasurer-elect Stacy Garrity to “advance issues of transparency in new ways.”

In a series of Tweets, Arneson thanked Wolf for “recognizing and respecting the independence of the Office of Open Records. Absolutely vital for that independence to continue.”

Arneson was appointed the state’s second open records director in January 2015. It was one of the last acts by then-Republican Gov. Tom Corbett before he handed off control over the executive branch to Wolf, a York County Democrat, PennLive reported at the time.

The timing of Arneson’s appointment raised eyebrows. The state’s first open records czar, attorney Terry Mutchler, left when her first term expired in April 2014, leaving the position open for six months, and giving Arneson’s 11th-hour appointment the air of a political going-away present.

Arneson, who served as chief of staff to former Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, of *Delaware County, was instrumental in helping to write the the state’s revamped open records law in 2008. Arneson previously served ex-Senate Majority Leader David J. “Chip” Brightbill, R-Lebanon, who lost during the 2006 primary, and was replaced by now-former GOP Sen. Mike Folmer.

In one of his first acts after taking office in 2015, Wolf tried to fire Arneson, sparking a fight with the Republican-controlled state Senate, where Arneson was popular and still enjoyed support because of his years of service. Sen Jake Corman, R-Centre, then the new Senate majority leader declared the nascent administration’s honeymoon dead on arrival, PennLive reported.

For his part, Arneson contested the legality of the administration’s decision to recall the 28 executive nominations that Corbett administration had made in its waning days, the Tribune-Review reported at the time.

In its statement, the Wolf administration touted Gerloff Wagenseller’s credentials as DePasquale’s chief aide, saying she “oversees operations, directs strategy and ensures transparency through collaboration with stakeholders, legislators and the public.

In addition, “Gerloff Wagenseller has more than 16 years of experience in the public and private sectors designing and implementing political and communications strategy,” the administration said in its statement.

DePasquale, a York County Democrat who unsuccessfully ran for central Pennsylvania’s 10th Congressional District last November, will leave office this month after serving the constitutional maximum of two terms. He’s being replaced by Republican Tim DeFoor, who will be the first Black man to hold the post.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.