Burns prevails in government transparency effort

Office of Open Records rules in his favor in battle with LCB

EBENSBURG, July 26 – The state Office of Open Records has sided with state Rep. Frank Burns in his quest to obtain the number of liquor licenses available for auction in each county, issuing a ruling that debunks every argument put forth by the state Liquor Control Board on why it should be allowed to keep those numbers secret.

Burns, D-Cambria, hailed the Office of Open Records decision as a victory for government transparency – but lamented that the LCB denied his initial request for information that should be readily shared with any member of the public.

“If I’m a state representative and they wouldn’t give information to me, it makes me wonder how the person who isn’t a state representative is being treated,” Burns said. “I appealed the LCB’s denial to the Office of Open Records because I knew in my heart that it was the right thing to do, for me and for the public.”

The Office of Open Records’ final determination said the LCB “is required to provide” Burns with the information within 30 days, unless it chooses to appeal to Commonwealth Court – a move Burns said would constitute another stalling tactic and one he hopes the LCB doesn’t take.

“The Office of Open Records basically shot down all of the reasons the LCB trotted out to deny my information request, and I see no reason the courts would rule any differently,” Burns said. “The LCB is a state agency, not a private corporation, and it needs to start acting like it answers to the people.”

The Office of Open Records’ final determination, issued July 24, laid waste to every aspect of the LCB’s case for keeping the number of licenses available for auction secret, noting that the LCB:

  • Has not proven that Act 85 limits public access to the number of licenses available for auction in each county;

  • Has not proven that the number of licenses available for auction in each county is a trade secret or confidential, proprietary information;

  • Has not proven that the total number of available licenses reflects the board’s internal, predecisional deliberations; and

  • Has not demonstrated that the release of the information would result in the loss of funds.

Burns sought the information because he believes the LCB is handling its auction of reactivated licenses in a manner that gives it an unfair market advantage over mom-and-pop restaurants and bars, whose owners are seeing the licenses they already hold devalued in the LCB’s quest to maximize its own profit to boost state coffers.