Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Empire Strikes Back! Nazareth Borough Council Answers Sunshine Act Complaint


It's happened again. I don't think the ink was dry on my Sunshine Act complaint against Nazareth Borough and my damn cell phone started ringing. It was Courtney Lomax, Express Times reporter, asking me about it. And this afternoon, she called again to ask me about Nazareth's response. Apparently, Nazareth has answered my Sunshine Act complaint, which was news to me. Courtney was kind enough to fax me a portion of Nazareth's answer.

Not long ago, you may recall, I sued Nazareth Borough Council over its practice of using committees to make decisions behind closed doors. It's been doing that for years. Most recently, secret committees have been considering options for a municipal center relocation. Upset residents feel blindsided.

Nazareth denies it's done anything wrong, and raises every defense conceivable as well as a few that don't exist. According to Nazareth, my claim is barred by the doctrine of fraud, the statute of frauds, contributory negligence, laches, estoppel, statute of limitations, etc., etc., blah, blah, blah. This marks the first time I've ever seen contributory negligence used as a Sunshine Act defense. That's a good one. Nazareth has launched every arrow in its quiver in the forlorn hope that one might hit a target. Maybe this is some sort of practical joke, but it's no response.

That's unfortunate because democracy dies behind closed doors. And Nazareth has failed to justify its secret meetings. I could object to the scatter gun answer, but would like to get this in front of a judge as soon as possible.

Did I tell you how much I love our judges? Especially Judge Moran.

I think I'll call Courtney Lomax to see how this all sorts out. The Express Times has hired a psychic.

22 comments:

Anonymous said...

Premise: The police station is downtown.
Premise: The bank is downtown.
Premise: The bank was robbed.
Inference: Downtown police stations do not prevent downtown bank robberies.
Conclusion: Move the police station farther away.

Anonymous said...

I meant that for Mayor Keller

LSTresidentPIA said...

Fraud? You gotta explain some of this to us non-lawyer types please...

Bernie O'Hare said...

To LSTresidentPIA, It's a very odd response, full of matters that have nothing to do with anything. It's totally bizarre, when you come right down to it.

Under Pa. law, a fraud allegation must be made specifically. In other words, Nazareth has to explain it and not just make the charge. So I can file objections, but first I have to see the entire answer. Once I do, I'll decide what to do. Right now, I'd like to get this in front of a judgew ASAP.

Anonymous said...

Bernie, most people do not realize how important this is. If you were not so vigilant, most decisions would be made behind closed doors and most public meetings would last all of 10 seconds. Unless YOU are the victim, you never think these things matter. But they do!

Bernie O'Hare said...

Actually, I would never have known about this but for the very cvlose questioning of Ross NonnemacherHe elicited an admission from Council that 2 committees were meeting behind closed doors and that they later merged into one committee.

NewsOverCoffee said...

Bernie,

I've stated to you privately, and here publicly, that I believed there was a violation of the sunshine law based on my understanding of it. I sat at the meeting and debated whether or not to bring it up. Then Councilman Davis said his committee of four met in compliance with the Sunshine Law, to make, and I summarize here, these critical decisions related to the government center. All the while I'm thinking, how is this in compliance? There is no public notification, no meeting date, Council Members here, public there.

There were A LOT of people that wanted to speak that night as you know, and I debated opening my mouth (good ole' foot in mouth disease fear), but faith in truth prevailed and I asked the questions.

Once my own were shot down by the solicitor, you stepped up at the meeting and thereafter.

For that I am most appreciative. My comments may have been shot down, but they weren't off base or wrong. They were consistent with the law. Instaed it was the borough's solicitor who was trying to find ways around it.

Your dedication is what has gotten the matter this far and that is beyond admirable.

Anyone that bitches about voters getting what they deserve should step aside when citizens get informed and become determined to take their communities back.

That is what is happening here and it is admirable.

(hey! - where's bill white? This would make a great article!)

Bernie O'Hare said...

Ross (News Over Coffee), I appreciate the kind words, but confess I was never paying attention myself. I am usually so focused on the county that I wasn't paying attention to my own back yard.

You were very careful with your questions. To my surprise, Council and its Solicitor answered you, and that is how the discovery of the Sunshine Act violation came about. You ferreted out the facts. Many others attended Council that night, and I think that helped provoke the council response. I heard these misstatements of the law concerning a quorum repeated again in a subsequent Council meeting.

Right now, people are quite upset. And whether Council realizes it or not, it is because they violated the Sunshine Act. People talk about a borough council that decides everything important behind closed doors, whether it's the decision to move the civil war cannon or a resurrection of munipal center expansion.

Secrecy undermines public confidence in government, and that is why we are in such a sad state. I know these Council members want what is best, but people will never believe that now because of the process used. That's why, unless Council agrees unilaterally to change its current practice with respect to committees, it's important to get a decision from a judge.

Bill White did already speak to this issue. We get the government we deserve. He's right. I know I voted for some of these folks myself. It's a mistake I won't repeat.

elyssia said...

I moved to Nazareth about 3 years ago and I really like it here. (I'm only right around the corner from you).Thank you so much for all you are doing to help this town. I can't tell you how much it means to me and my family that someone is looking out for the best interest of Nazareth residents.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Elyssia, Thanks for the compliment but I've got to tell you that a lot of people are very involved in their community, even those sitting on Council. Mr. Karch is another example. He actually gave Nazareth a property with the understanding that Nazareth would not build at the park. He remains dedicated. Ross Nonnemacher has provided detailed reports on his blog. Lori Bernardo organized a group of citizens. Tim Harper recruited an architect. Frank Finocchio and Bill Coker have pounded the sidewalks for signatures. Cindy Werner, Jack Herbst & Mike Kopach have spoken eloquently and our trying to use their influence on Council to persuade a majority. It's a very large movement.

My motivation is to get Nazareth to follow the Sunshine Act.

Anonymous said...

Plans for an expanded government center were presented and discussed before the public AT LEAST 4 years ago. They were NOT mysteriously pulled out of a hat 6 months ago.

What is mind boggling----no-one seems upset over an astronomical school expansion/expense. $45 million that will become an even greater tax burden!?!?!

Bernie O'Hare said...

Plans were discussed, and behind closed doors, at least 6 years ago. That's why citizens were up in arms then. The latest plan was arrived at behind closed doors. And the third option that Davis mentioned on resignation night is another plan behind closed doors.

Of course, what NASD does is a concern. But at least they are discussing everything openly.

We'll let a judge decide.

Anonymous said...

I repeat:

Plans were presented and PUBLICLY Discussed at OPEN, PUBLIC meetings at leasr 4,6 years ago!!!!

Bernie O'Hare said...

The discussion of very specific plans for a government center at Nazareth Hall Park has been done behinf closed doors. The discusssion oif another option, which involves the purchase of real estate, has also occurred behind closed doors. This is a borough that thinks its committees may meet secretly. One eeting was adjourned before allowing a reporter to attend. You are attempton to justofy what THIS Council is doing because of discussions by PRIOR Council 6 years ago. Those plans, incidentally, were killed. Resurrection of theser plans require public meetings.

Like I said, I'll let a judge dfecide. Nazareth is the only municiplaity in the LV that thinks it can operate this way. It can't. It leads to hard feelings. It appears now that the Nazareth Hall project is dead. That decision, too, has been made behind closed doors.

Bernie O'Hare said...

In addition to routinely discussing matters behind closed doors, council went one step further last week. It acitively misled the public. On a Thurs meeting, it repeatedly assured resients there had been no meetings to discuss anything for nearly a month. But the following Monday, the same council members had a different story for an ET reporter. They told her they not only were discussing the relocation, but were predicting a near unanimous vote on a new plan that involves a real estate purchase.

You can't have it both ways. You can'ty meet in the secret and insist you're doing it publicly. And you should not tell the public one thing and a reporter something else.

Don't get me wrong. I respect most members of borough council. I don't blame them for listening to their solicitor, who is a very able guy. But in this instance, I think his advice about the Sunshine Act is wrong. His flawed interpretation hasd undermined public confidence in the government.

So let's let a judge decide.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I apologize for the spelling errors. I am no typist.

Anonymous said...

Reporters and their editors have their own way of twisting the truth!!!!

Bernie O'Hare said...

It's amazing! Editors, news reporters, most Nazareth residents, media attorney Terri Henning, News Over Coffee and I are ALL wrong! I'll tell you what. What don't you write and essay explaining your viewpoint? I'll be happy to turn it into a separate post. I don't share your view, but unlike some members of Nazareth Borough Council, I like public debate. So please feel fee to email an essay and I'll gladly post it. You can remain anonyomous and set up a bogus email account at yahoo to send your essay. I'm not really interested in knowing who you are, but like people with different views, and yours is certainly different. So if you're game, I'll post it.

Anonymous said...

1) Mr. Davis did NOT "quit" His wife retired . They move to NC. No way you can stay on council.

2) "most people". How many ? 100, 600, 1,000? Nazareth has 5500 plus residents.

Words. Powerful. At times innaccurate and damaging. I really prefer DOING over debating

Bernie O'Hare said...

The simple truth is that Davis quit. He resigned from Council. He may have quit because his wife retired or he liked the south or for any of a number of reasons. But he quit, whether you like it put that way or not. I think he was a good man althouggh I disagree with his interpretation both of the Sunshine Act and the deed restriction. I know his heart was in the right place. But he did quit.

As far as the petition is concerned, at my last count (over a month ago) there were over 1,000 signatures. As you point out, Nazareth has only 5,500 citizens. The petition is only for adult residents of the borough. Usually only one adult is home when petitions are circulated. I believe half or 2/3 of the adult residents of this borough have signed on.

Yes, words are very powerful. And my words come with my name attached to them. I accept responsibility for what I say. I don't fault you for posting anonymously because this is a small town and you probably have enough problems without letting people know how you feel. But if I were to decide between comments from someone who signs his name and someone who hides behind a cloak of anonymity, I'd pick the person who signs his name.

Franky, your own comments have been inaccurate. Your understanding of the Sunshine Act is so flawed that I pray you don't sit on Council. And your insinuations about your fellow residents, reporters, and editors are very damaging. I hope you realize we're all on the same side here. Maybe you don't think that. And if you read ALL my posts, you'd understand that I get that.
Yes, I do tease, but that's because I have a wicked sense of humor. But in the end, I do respect most of them.

Having said that, I will work hard to remove council members who don't think committees need to follow the Sunshine Act. I can promise you that. And I keep my promises. I can assure you that this goes way beyong the location of the government center. I will work hard against any council member who promotes government behind closed doors. That is my right as an American citizen. I am really disturbed that Stoudt would actually adjourn a committee rather than let a reporter sit in. I take the Sunshine Act very seriously and think strict adherence is fundamental to good government.

As far as your preference for action over debate, that is precisely what is wrong. Action should always follow debate, ESPECIALLY in a democracy. And in case you haven't figured this out, let me clue you in. This is a democracy. IT's very disorderly and messy but it's superior to any other form of government. Nazareth is not exempt. It is not a German berg. It is part of the United States. It is not a dictatorship or a collection of folks like you who prefer DOING to debating, as you say. I'm sure you would agree with me about this under other circumstances and hope you soon realize that it is very important that council committes conduct their business publicly. Not doing so is what led to the problem here. It led to problems before, when Council considered this 6 years ago. It led to problems when someone decided to move the canon behind closed doors.

I gave you an opportunity to submit a post and I will put it up in fairness to your point of view. If you want your view read, then submit something and I'll be happy to post it. Frankly, not many readers look at a post several weeks after it is posted. I'd be happy to post what you say.

Anonymous said...

I just "quit"

Bernie O'Hare said...

No surprise to me.