Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Did the Commissioners violate the Sunshine Act?

At the outset of their public meeting, Wednesday, the Commissioners apologized for their having held a meeting last week after Commissioner Chairman Dennis Stuckey and County Clerk Andrea McCue had told some that the meeting had been canceled due to the weather.

The Commissioners each admitted that they made a mistake last week but refused to comment on whether the meeting was "illegal."

Chris Hart Nibbrig of West Hempfield Township, a NewsLanc contributor, used the opportunity to opine that it was in fact illegal "because it violated the Sunshine Law."

"Lancaster Newspapers was here last week and witnessed you three violating the Sunshine Law."

"Lancaster Newspapers spilled gallons - tankers - full of ink on the Sunshine Law," Hart Nibbrig said. "The headline was six columns across the front of the page - GUILTY," he continued, calling it "the issue on which you three rode into office."

Hart Nibbrig made the connection between the Lancaster Newspapers and the County Commissioners by getting each of the Commissioners to admit that he had accepted campaign contributions from Dale High, President of the High Group, a partner of the Lancaster Newspapers in the construction of the Hotel & Convention Center project.

"Six official actions were taken and six official actions had to be re-taken today because the meeting was illegal," he proclaimed.

One of the issues from last week's agenda that was reconsidered Wednesday morning is a set of revised rules for the County Parks.

Ron Harper Jr., of East Cocalico Township, a community activist, and a handful of other attendees questioned provisions in the Park Rules banning the carrying of firearms within County Parks and language stating that "No person shall swim or bathe in any creek, stream, river, lake, pond, swamp, or man-made retention basin contained wholly within the Park System."

Harper argued that, as phrased, it requires that all portions of a waterway be within a County Park in order for the County to regulate it.

Others present argued that the County has no business regulating this kind of activity at all.

Harper also argued that because Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and parallel provisions of the Pennsylvania Constitution, afford citizens a right to keep and bear arms, that the County Parks rules should accommodate the right of individuals to carry handguns with a concealed carry permit.

Commissioner Scott Martin agreed and the Commissioners eventually agreed to table the resolution for further discussion until next week's meeting.

Commissioner Craig Lehman said, in reference to the controversy over last week's meeting, "mistakes happen - I will admit to mistakes when I make them and I'm willing to own up to it."

Martin told the public that the County will make an announcement soon regarding procedures for canceling or delaying a meeting due to inclement weather.

Don Lefever, the County Solicitor, admitted in an interview that the meeting the Commissioners held last week was inappropriate, but said, "I'm not sure I'd characterize it as illegal."

"The Sunshine Law," Lefever continued, "includes a mechanism whereby action taken at an improperly-called meeting can be declared void by disclosing that the meeting took place and then taking steps to remedy it."