Burns: LCB asks court to overrule Office of Open Records, block information
State agency wants to keep number of liquor licenses secret
EBENSBURG, Aug. 27 – Bucking a ruling by the state Office of Open Records, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board is taking state Rep. Frank Burns to court to dodge Burns’ attempt to find out how many liquor licenses the state agency has available for auction.
Burns, D-Cambria, said that in legal papers served on his office, the LCB clings to its belief that the number of liquor licenses it plans to auction is “confidential proprietary information or a trade secret subject to protection from public disclosure.” The LCB wants Commonwealth Court to rule in its favor.
“Since fewer than 10 percent of Office of Open Records rulings are appealed to court, I’m even more baffled at why the LCB is being so secretive,” Burns said. “The OOR sided with me, shooting down every one of the LCB’s arguments on why the public shouldn’t know this information. It’s amazing that they’re now spending taxpayer money to fight this in court.”
After Burns was initially rebuffed by the LCB, which refused to comply with his Right-to-Know Law request seeking a countywide breakdown of the total number of licenses the public agency has available to auction, he followed protocol and asked for a ruling by the OOR, which issued a final determination and order in his favor on July 24.
Burns said that, to his amazement, the LCB is still trying to maintain secrecy, to the point of arguing that, “The OOR has not explained how the release of the information being sought serves to promote transparency and/or further the interests of the Commonwealth.”
As a senior member of the House Liquor Control Committee, Burns noted that the information the LCB is trying to conceal is critical to doing his job. Last month, the House held a hearing on H.B. 1644, which would allow a significant number of additional restaurant licenses to be created.
“How could any elected official make an informed vote on this bill without knowing the number of restaurant licenses the LCB has to auction?” Burns asked. “Without LCB cooperation, we are forced to guess, which could inadvertently flood the market with additional licenses, hurting small business owners. The public didn’t elect us to guess when making decisions that affect them.”
Resorting to such legal maneuvers and flawed logic does little to promote citizen faith in state government, said Burns, who believes the court will uphold the OOR ruling in his favor.
Burns is seeking 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.