Bridy proposes daily meetings of Northumberland County commissioners
SUNBURY - Accusations against the county for violating the Sunshine Act and conducting business "behind closed doors" has prompted one commissioner to recommend holding public meetings every business day of the year.
A motion Tuesday by Commissioner Stephen Bridy to conduct meetings Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. until all business is transacted was tabled for further research by solicitor Frank Garrigan. If the move is approved, it most likely would set a precedent in county government.
Bridy said he made the recommendation to make county government as transparent as possible and avoid future claims of violating the Sunshine Act.
Bridy said Commissioner Richard Shoch and several
citizens, including David F. Kaleta, of Shamokin, have been critical of the way county business has been conducted.
Shoch has claimed numerous times that Bridy and Commissioner Chairman Vinny Clausi have excluded him from certain discussions and actions involving county-related business. Kaleta has filed a federal lawsuit against Clausi, Bridy and the county, claiming they violated the Sunshine Act in his battle with the county over being barred from county-owned property that makes up the Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area (AOAA).
Kaleta, who has been critical of the county's plans to build the 6,500-acre recreational area on forest and abandoned coal lands in Coal, East Cameron, Mount Carmel, West Cameron and Zerbe townships, was informed in a Sept. 10 letter from county planning director Pat Mack that his request to use the land for hunting and walking his dog had been denied after consideration by "two of three members of the board of commissioners," later determined to be Clausi and Bridy.
Kaleta, claiming the discussion to deny access was a violation of the Sunshine Act, won a preliminary injunction allowing him access to the AOAA land in Northumberland County Court. His lawsuit is proceeding through federal court.
Bridy and Clausi agreed Tuesday that something must be done so the commissioners can move forward with business without the fear of being sued. The topic led to more tension between Clausi and Shoch, who have been at odds over numerous issues for the past year.
"This is insane," Clausi said. "We must move forward. My name has been destroyed because of Rick Shoch. We can't keep doing business like this. He (Shoch) has ruined my reputation."
Asked by Clausi to comment, Shoch turned around to his fellow commissioners and told the crowd, "This is county leadership right here." His comment drew laughs and applause from the crowd.
Attempts were unsuccessful Tuesday afternoon to get comment from the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania on the daily meeting proposal. The commissioners generally meet twice each month, while most municipal governments hold only one monthly meeting.
It's unclear how daily meetings would fit with the requirements of the Sunshine Act and how public participation would be impacted.
Minority party votes
Another motion by Bridy to send letters to Gov. Tom Corbett, the state House of Representatives and state Senate encouraging state government to allow Independents and other minority party members to vote in primary elections was approved on a 2-1 vote, with Shoch voting "no."
Clausi, a Democrat, and Bridy, who won election in the 2011 general election as an Independent, said they believe everyone who pays taxes should be allowed to vote in the primary and general elections. Shoch said he doesn't believe that matter is a responsibility of the county commissioners.
Pennsylvania is one of just 13 states that does not allow voters to participate in primary elections unless they are registered as Democrats or Republicans. Most states allow open primaries, with subsequent run-off elections, or some other means of ensuring that voters other than Republicans and Democrats may vote.
911 Disability Initiative
All three commissioners agreed with Bridy's recommendation to establish a 911 Disability Initiative that involves providing the county communications center with addresses and other specific information for disabled residents living in homes throughout the county so first responders can be made aware of any disabilities.
Bridy said the information, which will only be provided to first responders, will be stored in the computer system at the communications center.
Bridy urged citizens to e-mail information to firstname.lastname@example.org or mail it to the commissioners' office at 399 S. Fifth St., Sunbury 17801.