Kaleta asks court to save tapes
HARRISBURG - Attorneys representing David Kaleta in his federal Sunshine Act lawsuit have asked the court for an order to keep county officials from destroying audio recordings of past meetings.
The motion, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court, asks Judge Matthew W. Brann and Magistrate Judge Martin C. Carlson to order the defendants, Commissioners Vinny Clausi and Stephen Bridy, and Northumberland County, its elected officials, appointees, employees and agents to not destroy and to preserve audio recordings and any and all discoverable material pending a further order from the court.
Clausi and commissioner Rick Shoch got into a heated argument at Tuesday's meeting over a proposed motion to erase tapes of meetings from Jan. 1, 1997, and Feb. 28, 2013.
Clausi and Bridy believe maintaining the tapes is unnecessary and cumbersome and only provides more of an opportunity for the county to be sued.
The rhetoric of the court filing uses that reason as its basis for the protective order.
"Defendants Clausi and Bridy have indicated that their motive for destroying the audio recordings is to prevent lawsuits," the motion reads, "giving rise the reasonable inference that the audio recordings contain information creating liability for the defendants."
It also brings up Clausi's past controversy regarding the removal and destruction and/or loss of a hard drive from the computer in his county office.
Both commissioners pointed out that the county is not bound by law to tape any of its meetings, while federal law requires records to be kept for only seven years.
Later in the meeting, the board voted 2-1, Clausi and Bridy for and Shoch against, to destroy future recordings after written minutes are created from them, starting with the county's most recent meeting, which was held Tuesday. They vowed to revisit erasing old tapes.
Following the commissioners' meeting, Kaleta said he spoke with his attorneys, Kimberley Best and Timothy Bowers, and determined it was in their best interest to file the motion.
"We are using several of the past tapes right now to help plan our suit," Kaleta said Thursday evening. "Once we saw the news article, we got to work on the motion."
Both Clausi and Bridy accused Shoch of collusion with the attorneys and Kaleta over the tapes.
"Mr. Kaleta does not run the county and Mr. Shoch must realize he needs two votes to do anything," Clausi said. "He is not working for the people who elected him. He's working for the lawyers."
"We have people wanting to look into the past, rather than working toward the future of Northumberland County," Bridy said. "Dealing with matters like this is hindering the job I was elected to do."
Kaleta denied any involvement by Shoch in his motion, saying such an accusation is a "totally false statement."
The Republican commissioner agreed, saying his issue with destroying the tapes has nothing to do with Kaleta.
"Why I want to review the tapes is to answer the questions that I have before I came into office," Shoch said. "It is still inexplicable to me that no one wants to look into the issue with the HPRP (Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program) grant issue even to see if any kind of fraud has been committed."
That issue, Shoch said, has made Northumberland County "a liability" for state grant money consideration.
"We have been wanting to apply for this grant for money to help in fighting blight, and we have to apply through the county Housing Authority rather than us, due to DCED being a little nervous because of the last grant," Shoch said.
Shoch admitted he circulated an e-mail after he saw the draft agenda item to erase the tapes to about "10 to 15 people" on the matter, but Kaleta, Best or Bowers weren't any of them.
"It sounds like more Clausi gibberish and Bridy following suit," Shoch said.
But word did travel fast after Shoch's e-mail was sent.
"I had people talking to me about it that I hadn't sent the e-mail to, so it was getting around," Shoch said.
Best and Bowers wrote that counsel e-mailed the county's attorneys Tuesday and Wednesday in an attempt to resolve the matter by stipulation. The attorneys have responded, saying they are not presently able to resolve the matter in that way.
In the recently filed documents, Bowers said he has spoke to the defendants' attorney, Gary Dadamo, of Harrisburg, and the defendants do not concur with the motion.
The U.S. District Court's website did not indicate when a decision will be made, but Bridy said he is confident the motion will be denied.
"I've spoken to three different solicitors who have researched this and told me that we shouldn't be holding on to the tapes, and I doubt they will find any precedent for it," he said.
Clausi's comments had a bit more bite.
"I guess these two (Best and Bowers) can't make a living as attorneys, so they want to make a living off the taxpayers of Northumberland County," he said.