SUNBURY — A hearing is scheduled Thursday afternoon in Northumberland County Court involving a lawsuit filed by a Coal Township man against county Commissioner Chairman Vinny Clausi for limiting public comment at meetings to two minutes.
Judge Charles Saylor will preside at the 2:30 p.m. hearing on motions for preliminary injunction and protective order filed by William R. Knapick Sr., of 1435 W. Pine St., who claims Clausi violated the Sunshine Act by imposing a two-minute limit on public comment at county meetings.
The suit was filed by Knapick’s attorneys, Kymberley Best and Timothy Bowers, in January after Knapick claimed he was not given ample time by Clausi to express his opinions.
Best and Bowers formerly served as legal counsel for the county.
In his complaint, Knapick said the commissioners are required to provide a reasonable opportunity for public comment in accordance with the Sunshine Act. At the Jan. 22 commissioners’ meeting, Clausi imposed a two-minute limit on public comment without taking a vote or receiving approval from the majority of commissioners, the lawsuit states.
Knapick claims Clausi only gave him 90 seconds instead of two minutes to make comments and also cut off his friend, David F. Kaleta, of Shamokin, at 65 seconds when he was posing questions to Clausi.
The suit also claims Clausi violated the Sunshine Act by retaliating against a member of the public for objecting to Clausi’s alleged violation of the act.
The suit states, “Clausi’s acts arbitrarily restrict public comment and are calculated to deter public participation at meetings through threats and coercion.”
In addition to seeking costs and attorney fees from Clausi, Knapick wants to make the two-minute public comment rule unenforceable. He also wants all action taken at the Jan. 22 meeting to become void.
Knapick had again asked the commissioners for an update on his complaint made in October regarding the cutting of what he claims was hundreds of trees Dec. 10 and Dec. 11, 2011, to create new trails for the Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area (AOAA).
Clausi previously said he thinks two minutes is enough time, because if people need more information, it can be provided after the meeting. But he said he would consider lengthening it.
During a Feb. 12 meeting, however, nine rules for the conduct and order of business, including the two-minute limit, were approved on a 2-1 vote of the commissioners. At that meeting, Clausi instructed county solicitor Frank Garrigan to recite President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address to illustrate his claim that a lot can be said in two minutes.