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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

No Sunshine in Coplay

Most of you know I'm a boozehound who lost my ticket to practice law because I promised people the moon when I was drinking. But I still met some good people during those days, like a pretty and funny blond nurse from Coplay named Robin. She was madly in love with a Larry Holmes' sparring partner, and I used to promise her the moon, too. I told her it would all work out, even though the dude was a gorilla. Of course, I was secretly hoping it would really fall apart and she'd rush into my arms. Ironically, this was one time I delivered. She ended up marrying the guy. They live near Philly now. Last time I talked to her, a few years ago, they were still very happy.

"I know a guy who could get you a divorce."

"No, Bernie, we're very happy."

"Are you sure? 'Cuz I know a guy ..."

"I'm sure."

Since Robin is originally from Coplay, and liked it there, so do I. It's 9U baseball tournament is probably the best in the Lehigh Valley. Don't tell Donovan, but they even put on a fireworks show. Coplay is also home to the best homemade pierogies I've ever eaten. Even my grandson, who is a picky eater, wolfed them down when he was 9. When I was there last night, that was my supper at Samuel Owens' restaurant.

After tanking up, I headed over to Borough Hall to catch a meeting. But instead of seeing Robin, I saw an overcrowded meeting room. There were only 19 people, but that was all the room could handle. They were angry, too.

Apparently, Coplay rents its second floor to the Coplay Athletic Association, but the noise of dropping weights is bothering the staff and the weight is damaging the structural integrity of the building. Some committee was set to meet with some of these athletic supporters, but when a bunch of people showed up, Council President Melvin Mann and Councilman Joseph Groller took a powder. According to Groller, their Solicitor had told them they could keep the public out. In fact, their Solicitor (James F. Preston) has told them they can exclude the public from committee hearings.

Now borough councils are both administrative and legislative, and there may be instances where public involvement is not really necessary or required, but it is such a mixed up mess that it's foolish to conduct business behind closed doors. But Council President Mann, in particular, made clear he has little regard for what the people think.

"Can I ask a question?" asked Anne Killeen.

"No," responded Mann.

"I just love government," she complained.

Bev Miller described the people at the meeting that Mann unceremoniously cancelled. "They were not unruly. .. There were no outbursts. In fact, no one spoke. They were here to listen. So I find it hard to believe that you can conduct business in front of all of these people, yet you can't a small, little meeting with a few people ... ."

Mann tried to invoke the five-minute rule to muzzle Miller, but another Council member told her to go on.

Resident Barbara Fritz, who uses the athletic center daily: "I have to say I'm ashamed, embarrassed and disgusted that I voted for the two gentlemen that were there [referring to Mann and Groller]." Anne Killeen, another athletic supporter flatly told Council, "I think you should open your doors."

Not every Council member was happy at shutting the public out of committee meetings. Joe Bundra, for example, stated "Any meeting I have, you can't lock people out." But Mann insisted he was right to cancel the meeting. "When we had that committee meeting and saw all the other people coming in, some of those folks were coming in with predisposed ideas. And that was a major concern. So that's why we walked like we said we were going to walk."

He must be a mind reader.

After the meeting, I learned Coplay Borough Council only conducts some committee hearings in public.

The Sunshine Act applies to borough councils and to their committees. In 2006, I sued Nazareth Borough Council over its practice of using committees to make decisions behind closed doors. After losing preliminary objections, Nazareth saw the sunlight. Here's why. "Democracies die behind closed doors. A government operating in the shadow of secrecy stands in complete opposition to the society envisioned by the framers of our Constitution."

Unfortunately, I do not live in Coplay. Maybe Robin can hook me up.


Frank C. Dickman said...

Coplay First, Coplay Last and Everything in Between. My wife and I, Coplay residents for more than 55 years, consider it to be the next thing to Utopia. The Coplay Athletic Club is an organization that was founded many, many years ago by Lou Bodish,Sr. He was a pugilist of some reknown and he also served on Coplay Boro Council in the 60's. His son, Lou,Jr., is a current member of Boro Council. The current Chairman of Coplay A.C. is Rick Bundra, who we have known for a long time, and is as straightforward a person with integrity that you will ever meet. He spoke first at the council meeting on Tuesday night and he presented what seemed to be an amicable solution to the weight room issue. It was stated that the noise was created when a member of Coplay A.C., using the weight room, was dropping weights on the floor. Also, it was stated that the Coplay Boro Engineer questioned whether the structure , in that area, was capable of handling this activity, weight lifting. It seemed this issue could be addressed and rectified to receive council's approval. BUT, what most people spoke of to council last night concerned a meeting that was to have taken place a week or two earlier between a Coplay Council Committee and a Committee from Coplay A.C. to address the weight room issue. This is all hearsy to me because we only became aware of the PROBLEM at the council meeting on Sept. 7, 2010. The PROBLEM involved Councl President Marvin Mann and Concilman Joe Groller walking out of that prearranged meeting a couple of weeks ago, when they saw members of Coplay A.C., other than just the members of the A.C. Committee, entering the room. Mr. Mann stated that he and Mr. Groller walked out of the meeting room on the advice of the Coplay Boro Solicitor. The Coplay A.C. members said that all committee meetings are to be open to the public. A Coplay Council member said that all his meetings are open to the public. Rightly or wrongly, Mr. Mann and Mr. Groller acted upon the advice of the Boro Solicitor. My personal knowledge and understanding is that ALL committee meetings are to be open to the public, BUT, the public is permitted to only sit and listen and not actively participate in the committee meetings. That is not something dreamed up by Coplay Council. We are disturbed that there is an attempt to BESMIRCH the sincerity and integrity of Mr. Mann and Mr. Groller. Council President Mann is in the 3rd year of his term and has provided much needed Leadership to Council. Mr. Groller had served for 12 years on Coplay Boro Council in the 90's and into the early part of this century. Mr. Groller was a Council President and Finance Chairman and was known for his sincerity and frugality. Both of these gentlemen, along with other concerned council members, have been trying to lead Coplay Boro out of a gray doldrums period in Coplay Boro History. The saying by an individual in those days was "My Way Or The Highway". That individual is currently on the highway. During the last elections, the Coplay Voters spoke loud and clear and started the Housecleaning. It is a good possibility that the voters may complete the job in next year's election. Incidentally, I did serve on council for 15 and 1/2 months until my resignation on April 12, 2005. This was during the gray doldrums period I referred to earlier.
Incidentally, you evidently have not tasted the pierogi from the Church of St. Peter in Coplay. We have a dozen frozen if you want to sample the BEST!!!

Bernie O'Hare said...

Mr. Dickman, I love Coplay. I was there for the 9U tournament twice. I know some of the guys involved. And of course, Bill Leiner had to have been an excellent Mayor.

Now I was told that some, but not all committee meetings are open to the public. If I misunfderstood Mr. Groller, I will clarify that, but that's my recollection.

Mr. Mann stated why he walked out, and it had nothing to do with advice from the Borough Solicitor. It had to do with what he called "predisposed" people. That was wrong.

Borough Councils do perform some administrative tasks, and I'll concede that purely administrative meetings need not be public. But it's almost impossible to have a purely administative discussion, so I recommend that you urge the Borough Council to open its doors to ALL meetings. I will tell you that nothing infuriates a citizen more than being shut out.

I thank you very much for your comment.

Bill Leiner Jr. said...

Bernie, Happy holidays !! As you know I try not to respond to blog posts. However, I have to respond to tell you that Mr. Dickman's heart is right. He means well in his own way. This 85 year old gentleman was a Coplay Council Member, 2004-05, for 16 months. He abruptly resigned his seat because a woman in the audience at a Council meeting was "making faces at him." This is all documented in the Whitehall-Coplay Press, the Whitehall Coplay Chronicle and the meeting's
tape recording. He has his own blog that he uses to single out his self made, self perceived enemies. Frank's behavior politically can be consistent with the term crack pot. He was coined when he was a Council Member as Coplay's "Resident Political Clown". I love him, but his behavior since the Coplay Crime Watch (I was the President at the time, Frank was a co founder)members in 2004 changed the name to the Coplay Town Watch Frank has been out of sorts since then. He cannot accept the name change. It is so small minded to be embarrassing. Coplay is, no doubt, a great place to live. I have been there nearly my entire life and think the town is great ..... but to call it "the next thing to Utopia" speaks volumes. I look forward to having Frank return to the Coplay Town Watch because he is a co founder. And, I look forward to his support in the May 2013 Demo Primary as I run for Coplay Mayor. Take care, Bill Leiner Jr., Coplay Council Elect

Bernie O'Hare said...

Bill, Nice to hear from you. Feral cats better look out now.

yittle gram said...

Hey Bernie Guess what?! The current members of Coplay Council put Marvin Mann back in after losing both the May primary and the regular election in 2011 to retain his seat.they needed to fill the mayor's position after the seated Mayor resigned (you should have heard his resignation letter).They voted to put councilman Joe Bundra in as mayor and voted to put Marvin back on council even though they had 2 others that put in for the seat. People in Coplay have the why do we bother to vote attitude" Can't say they're not wrong! Bev

yittle gram said...

Hey Bernie Guess what?! The current members of Coplay Council put Marvin Mann back in after losing both the May primary and the regular election in 2011 to retain his seat.they needed to fill the mayor's position after the seated Mayor resigned (you should have heard his resignation letter).They voted to put councilman Joe Bundra in as mayor and voted to put Marvin back on council even though they had 2 others that put in for the seat. People in Coplay have the why do we bother to vote attitude" Can't say they're not wrong! Bev