- Associated Press - Monday, June 15, 2015

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - Gov. Tom Wolf agreed Monday to reinstate the director of Pennsylvania’s open records office while the state’s highest court weighs whether he had the right to fire him.

Wolf’s move came five days after the Commonwealth Court ordered Erik Arneson returned to the job with benefits and back pay, ruling the governor had overstepped his authority.

The administration immediately appealed, and had said it would try to block Arneson’s rehiring while the Supreme Court decides the case.

But Wolf, who spoke briefly with Arneson on Monday morning, reversed himself and decided to let him return to the post, said the governor’s press secretary, Jeff Sheridan.

The governor, however, continues to believe the administration had the authority to replace him.

Arneson said his conversation with Wolf was “pretty direct.”

They agreed that Wolf will continue to pursue the appeal to the state Supreme Court, but that he will not challenge the court’s order to run the office until the litigation has run its course, Arneson said.

“It’s always been about the various principles that are outlined in the lawsuit,” Arneson said.

Should the Wolf administration win its Supreme Court appeal, no decision has been made about who to hire for the job or whether to keep Arneson in place, Sheridan said.

Arneson, 44, is a longtime Republican Senate aide who helped Sen. Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware, write a major amendment to the state Right-to-Know Law in 2008 that created the office.

He was appointed by GOP Gov. Tom Corbett in his final days in office, but the Democratic governor immediately fired him, objecting to the eleventh-hour appointment as lacking transparency.

The Commonwealth Court found that it was the Legislature’s intent that the director be independent of the governor’s office and not subject to removal like an at-will political appointee.

The court cited the director’s six-year term, which outlasts a four-year gubernatorial term, and the agency’s role in making quasi-judicial decisions about what records should be made public.

Wolf’s lawyers argued decades of state court precedent backed the administration’s position that the firing was within his authority.

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