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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Sunshine Act and Executive Sessions

Yesterday, I groused about Bethlehem Township's penchant for meeting behind closed doors before meetings. These secret meetings are permitted under Pennsylvania's Sunshine Act and are called "executive sessions" The public can be excluded from discussions about (1) personnel (not the appointment of a vacancy on the Board); (2) collective bargaining; (3) the lease or purchase of real estate; (4) litigation concerning identifiable complaints; and (5) confidential information such as a criminal investigation or privileged medical data.

Any votes must be taken publicly.

I compared the eight executive sessions in Bethlehem Township this year to other municipalities. I learned that Palmer Township has had 14 executive sessions so far this year, almost twice as many as Bethlehem Township. But because these sessions are always conducted at the end of the meetings, it's not as rude to the public as when they are forced to wait.  

The same is true in Hanover Township. Their five executive sessions this year were conducted at the end of meetings, with a statement alerting the public that the will re-convene in public if official action needs to be taken.  

I did not bother with Nazareth. In my limited appearances there this year, they had executive sessions before, during and after the meeting. I think they fumigated the room when I left, too.

Lower Nazareth, which has been extremely busy this year with numerous contested developments, along with its threat to leave the Colonial Regional Police Department.  There have been over twenty meetings, far more than anywhere else. But I could only find one brief executive session about a topic that arose during a meeting. It's a good record of transparency.

It appears that all the municipalities make an effort to be open,and specify why they are going in the back room. But it's best to have those meetings after all other business has concluded.


Anonymous said...

I am aware of a board in the Lehigh Valley that regularly has these private meetings immediately prior to the public meeting. However, they do not announce at the public meeting that they had an executive session or what was discussed, though it is obvious that it is a discussion on the agenda item(s). Frankly, I don't think the members are even aware that they aren't supposed to do what they are doing.

What is the "penalty" if they are called out on it? Or is it just a "do it the right way next time" type of thing?

Bernie O'Hare said...

Identify this township, and i'll talk to them. There are several remedies, even under a toothless law. But I'd start by talking to them, especially since you believe the error is innocent.

Anonymous said...

Bernie, you seem to be the expert on the Sunshine Act anymore so I have a question. How is Bethlehem City Council's plan to fill Karen Dolan's term (as reported on wfmz.com by randy kraft) not a violation of the Sunshine Act?

Bernie O'Hare said...

It appears to me to be a transpartent process in whichwritten questions and answers will be made public. The deliberations of the body and ensuing vote will be public. It appears to me to comply with the Sunshine Act.

Anonymous said...

Beth Twp is a banana republic.