PIAA

The PIAA logo on the scoreboard at the Giant Center during PIAA Wrestling Championships in Hershey.

Former Warrior Run High School Principal Patricia Cross's cellphone text messages and emails concerning Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association and District IV members must be released to The Daily Item, according to an order by the state Office of Open Records (OOR).

The state agency granted a Right to Know request filed by The Daily Item on May 10 after former principal and now Sullivan County School District Superintendent Cross denied the request in June.

Cross also serves on the PIAA District IV board.

The office issued a final determination Wednesday, saying the emails and any text conversations between Cross, former Shamokin Area School District Transition Administrator Jim Zack, who also serves as the PIAA board president, PIAA Executive Director Robert Lombardi, former Mifflinburg Area High School Principal Glenn Fogel and Shamokin Superintendent Chris Venna's were public information and must be released to the newspaper.

Fogel and Venna serve on the PIAA District IV board.

The newspaper's request sought text messages, from April 1 to May 10, and emails, from March 1 to May 10, between the group. Cross, who serves as the district's Right to Know officer, denied the request saying she believed the request was "insufficiently specific."

Cross said in a brief to the OOR that she was unable to determine if the records are public or not so, therefore, she determined the records are not within the district's possession, custody or control.

The Daily Item appealed Cross's decision, arguing the request was made to Cross and, because she serves as the Right to Know officer, she should not be able to make the determination.

The Office of Open Records Appeal Officer attorney Erin Burlew said Daily Item reporter Francis Scarcella's request, limited the emails and text messages to Cross and listed Zack, Fogel, Lombardi, Venna and the PIAA and that it was "sufficiently specific."

The state agency ordered Cross and the Sullivan County School District to release the records to the newspaper within 30 days.

"It should serve as a reminder to agencies that specificity denials should not be used as a means to thwart access," Pennsylvania Newspaper Association attorney Melissa Melewsky said. "The law is clear that agencies have a duty to locate and provide access to records that illustrate agency business. That includes emails and text messages to/from public officials, including emails and texts on personal devices like cellphones and private email accounts. This decision should lead to records that shed light on the PIAA issue, and that is a win for The Daily Item and the community it serves."

Cross, Zack, Venna and Fogel refuse to answer questions from The Daily Item about District IV business practices and whether or not receipts were kept at various locations where alcohol was served.

The group would also not answer whether or not PIAA picked up the tab.

Lombardi, through a Right to Know request earlier this year, said PIAA does not have any receipts for District IV on record. No one would answer who signs District IV checks or whether District IV has a credit card or any individual gets reimbursed for meals and alcohol served during District IV meetings.

Sullivan County School Board President Kim Phillips did not respond to a request for comment.

Cross has 30 days to appeal the state's decision to the Sullivan County Court of Common Pleas.

The final determination can be viewed on the Office of Open Records website, openrecords.pa.gov.