Monday, September 20, 2010

Let the Sunshine In! EASD's Gag Rule Violates PA Sunshine Laws to Prevent Public Comment

The Easton Area School District is willfully obstructing Pennsylvania's Sunshine Laws that guarantee citizen input at public meetings--but citizens are not taking it lying down.

Posted by: Noel Jones
Source: Merriam-Webster's Dictionary


 noun \di-ˌli-bə-ˈrā-shən

a : the act of deliberatingb : a discussion and consideration by a group of persons (as a jury or legislature) of the reasons for and against a measure
  1. After hours of deliberation, the council came to a decision.
  2. Jury deliberations lasted two days.
  3. She spoke to the audience with clarity and deliberation.

Watch  the video and see Easton residents Troy Renard and Larry Porter as they spoke up at the EASD's workshop meeting last Thursday to protest the new gag rule declared by school board president Pat Fisher, backed up by EASD solicitor Alan McFall--who had no excuse for giving bad legal advice, as he was reading directly from a print-out of the PA Sunshine Laws--as well as veteran school board member Pat Vulcano. The solicitor's fallacious reasoning is that no "deliberation" was taking place, because no vote was

taking place, and yet everything being discussed is to be voted on in this week's upcoming meeting. 

For the record, here is the definition of 'deliberation' according to PA Sunshine Act Section 703: "The discussion of agency business held for the purpose of making a decision."

As you can hear in the video, Troy speaks up at the very beginning, and what you can't see (because the cameraman refused to turn the camera on Troy) is that a security guard escorts him back to his seat. 

From 56:00 - 1:03 Jen Holzberger questions the difference between  "discussion" and "deliberation" and questions whether what the board is doing is even legal.

At 1:40:15, Larry Porter takes the mic and asks, "At what point does discussion, questions, concerns and dialogue become 'deliberation'?" The ensuing conversation is either hilarious or maddening depending on what mood you're in. Kerri Leonard-Ellison and Jen Holzberger both make it clear that no vote among council was ever taken, and that they are totally against shutting out public comment.

Don't miss the fireworks this Thursday, 6pm at the Easton Area Education Center, 1801 Bushkill Drive, for Round II of Citizens vs. Pat Fisher--or should I say, EASD vs. Sunshine?

Chapter 7 of the PA Sunshine Act, the chapter on open meetings and public participation, makes it very clear that not only are citizens entitled to public comment at ALL public meetings, but that for the board to silence Troy and Larry was also in complete violation of the law, as the law as Section 710.1(c) clearly states: "Any person has the right to raise an objection at any time to a perceived violation of this chapter at any meeting of a board or council of a political subdivision or an authority created by a political subdivision."

PA Sunshine Act Section 714 also states: "Any member of any agency who participates in a meeting with the intent and purpose by that member of violating this chapter commits a summary offense and shall, upon conviction, be sentenced to pay a fine not exceeding $100 plus costs of prosecution."

So at the very least, Pat Fisher, Alan McFall, and Pat Vulcano owe the public an apology, and should pay a $100 fine each.

And you thought the excitement of school board meetings would end with the firing of 72 teachers and administrator's giving themselves a raise? See you Thursday!


carinne said...

I really hope to see a crowd at the Thursday meeting. I am embarrassed for the board just watching the workshop video. The amount of bad attitude and confusion is terrible to view. Mr. Riley says near the end “I just did a search for public comment and it’s not mentioned anywhere in our policy”. Are you kidding me? I attended 2 meetings and decided I better learn about the policies of the board. One of the first sections I reviewed was pertaining to public comment. I cannot believe that an elected member of the board would choose to not know his own policies. From this and other meetings it’s pretty clear it’s not just him that is so uninterested and foolish.
I really do not understand why one would be so obviously annoyed by every element of a job they VOLUNTEERED to take on. I am curious how this task “pays off” for Volcano, Riley, and Fisher. Any thoughts?? Oh and I noticed Pat points out that other policies are not followed by board members and not criticized. Shouldn’t she speak up if she is the one catching these occurrences?

noel jones said...

It's the same enclave mentality excuse that gets echoed at so many political meetings in the Easton area, "this is the way we've always done it" or "this is the way we used to do it, so it's ok." Never mind that it's flat out illegal and opens the school district once again to litigation. The sense of entitlement and general buffoonery of most members of political bodies in Easton is nauseating--it's up to the voters to stand up and speak up, run for office and change the faces we see on that board. 5 positions are up for re-election in 2011, which means the primary is this spring--it's time to start looking for good candidates NOW.

noel jones said...

By the way, the PA Sunshine Act, as well as Gov. Rendell's doc explaining Open Meetings, are both available by clicking the Downloadable Documents tab on the right side bar of this home page. I wanted everyone to be able to print out a copy before the meeting on Thursday...

noel jones said...

Some residents are meeting at Porters pub at 5pm before going to the school board meeting at 6pm--the more the merrier! Come speak up during public comments--or come and be counted as supporting the residents that are fighting for your right to speak up when you're ready!

The school board meeting is at 6pm at 1801 Bushkill Drive, 2nd Floor and will probably go until about 8pm, so don't worry if you get there late, just come on in.

noel jones said...

The school board meeting tonight was a jaw-dropper--and went beyond 11pm when it was expected to be over by 8:30. It's very late, so I'm going to blog about this tomorrow...

David Caines said...

I'm just shocked that any of us are surprised by this. EASD has shown an almost complete contempt for the law in every article I've ever seen posted about them. Seriously?
How can this come as a surprise?

noel jones said...

David--the details from last night's meeting are in m latest post.