HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Two days after his inauguration where he pledged a spirit of cooperation, Democratic Governor Tom Wolf fired what Senate Republicans perceive to be an opening salvo in what figures to be a much larger war.
Wolf fired Erik Arneson as executive director of the Office of Open Records. Arneson was appointed to the six-year term by Governor Tom Corbett in the closing days of his administration.
ABC 27 caught up with Arneson at the Capitol moments after he got a letter, signed by Wolf, terminating his employment, effective immediately.
“I am extremely confident that he can’t do this,” said Arneson, who as a Senate staffer helped to write the Open Records law. “That’s Governor Wolf’s attempt to launch a full-scale attack on the independent Office of Open Records.”
In Arneson’s termination letter, Wolf called Arneson’s appointment rushed through and lacking in transparency.
Wolf also recalled about 27 Corbett nominees to boards and commissions his predecessor sent to the Senate in his final days. In a letter to the Senate Wolf wrote, “these moves were murky and the process was anything but open and transparent … the types of actions that make people legitimately distrust their government.”
Senate Democrats say Wolf has a point.
“It’s all about the process,” said Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa (D-Allegheny). “I think at the end of the day, that what’s most offensive. Governor Wolf should have been given the courtesy of making those nominations.”
Senate Republicans see it differently.
“I think it certainly is partisan politics,” said Drew Crompton, chief counsel to the Senate GOP caucus.
Crompton noted that Wolf promised not to play politics, but says he’s doing just that by recalling every single nominee put forth by the Republican Corbett. Wolf cannot unilaterally recall pending nominations and his request will now go to a Senate committee that will decide whether or not to honor it. Sources say the Senate can, and likely will, move ahead with the confirmation process over Wolf’s objection. The spat doesn’t bode well for the contentious budget battles to come.
“It certainly set us off on the wrong foot as it goes with relationships between the Senate and the governor,” Crompton said.
But there’s still open warfare over Open Records. The governor says it’s an at-will position and Arneson’s out.
Arneson says no, he’s not, that his is an independent position and it was created as a six-year term specifically to avoid the potential wrath of a four-year governor.
“As soon as I finish talking to you, I’ll be going back over to the office to resume my duties,” Arneson said. “I’ll be there tomorrow morning and the morning after that, etcetera.”
Wolf spokesman Jeff Sheridan said Arneson can show up at the building like any member of the public could, but “he’s no longer with the Office of Open Records.”