Is your daughter’s boyfriend a felon? Has that house you’ve been thinking of buying been reassessed? Are your parents paying property taxes? Is your neighbor a sex offender?
You can easily find answers to these questions online and PG reporter Rich Lord knows where and how. This week he held a workshop on researching public records as part of Post-Gazette University (PGU), an ongoing speakers' series that connects the PG's experts with the public on topics such as social media, gardening and others.
Rich's public records session has been by far the most popular among civic-minded folks; more than 80 people attended the workshop on Wednesday. This year, Rich had a guest speaker, Terri Mutchler, Pennsylvania’s top open records officer, who shared her insights on the state’s right-to-know law.
Rich is our expert on how to access and make use of public records online, including criminal background checks, real estate transactions, marital records and more. For the Post-Gazette, Rich covers federal court, correctional facilities, public housing and other important issues. He has been part of the Post-Gazette team that led the investigation of the Pittsburgh police department, which led to former Chief Nate Harper’s indictment.
Each attendee of Rich’s workshop received a handout with a list of 30 public records websites.
Here's a sampling of the sites Rich recommends:
1. “I want to know the reassessment history of the property I’d like to buy.”
Use Allegheny County assessment multi-list: http://www2.county.allegheny.pa.us/RealEstate/Default.aspx
2. “Is that Pittsburgh guy you met at a bar last month single for real?”
Use Allegheny County marriage records: https://dcr.alleghenycounty.us/Marriage/Search/MarriageLicenseSearch.aspx?Welcome=true
3. Federal PACER, (Public Access to Court Electronic Records) allows you to conduct nationwide searches to determine whether or not a party is involved in federal litigation: http://www.pacer.gov/
4. “Are any of my neighbors sex offenders?”
Use State Megan's Law: http://www.pameganslaw.state.pa.us/
5. “I’d like to send a letter to Jane Orie (in jail)”
Use state inmate locator: http://inmatelocator.cor.state.pa.us/inmatelocatorweb/
6. “I’d like to see Mayor-elect Bill Peduto’s finance report”
Use Allegheny County campaign finance lookup: http://documents.alleghenycounty.us/elections/DatasourceTemplate.aspx
7. “I want to know who is leading that non-profit?”
Use Guidestar: http://www.guidestar.org/
8: “I’d like to know ethnic composition of my neighborhood”
Use SNAP: http://www.pittsburghpa.gov/dcp/snap/
9. “I want to know more about lobbying efforts and campaign contributions in Pa.”
Use OpenSecrets: http://www.opensecrets.org/
10. “I’d like to track that Delta flight”
Use Flight Aware: http://flightaware.com/
If you'd like to learn more about researching public records online, be on the lookout for a new series of PGU workshops next year.