Monroe Borough council holds unadvertised meeting
An unadvertised meeting between Monroe Borough and Township officials on Jan. 17 to discuss the logistics of a planned levee was likely a violation of the Sunshine Act, according to Melissa Melewsky, media law council for the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association.
Melewsky said the situation raised "compliance issues" with the law, which requires public notice to be posted 24 hours in advance of a special meeting.
During interviews with The Daily Review, both Monroe Township Supervisor David Dunn and Monroe Borough Councilman Bill Shaw confirmed the meeting happened with a quorum present. Both men said five out of six borough council members attended the Friday meeting. The borough members in attendance were; President Dan Troup, Joan Grenell, Bill Shaw, Brenda Munkittrick and Richard Scott Bennett, according to Dunn and Shaw. The sixth council member, Lyall Harris, was not named by either man as having attended the meeting.
Shaw has served for over 50 years on the borough council. He said in the past the borough has checked with the Pennsylvania State Association of Borough in regards to when a meeting must be advertised. In this case, Shaw said, "I don't think we checked with them."
Having previously served for over 40 years as borough president, Shaw said it would be the responsibility of the current president, Dan Troup, to make sure the meeting was advertised if necessary.
"We invited them (the township) to come to this meeting to discuss something that may be undertaken, without any intent for any vote to be taken or anything like that," Shaw said.
"It wasn't advertised because I think it was just an informational meeting," he explained.
According to Melewsky, however, this is not a valid exception to the Sunshine Act. "The Sunshine Act applies regardless if official action is taken. It applies to official action and official discussion," she explained, "A levee [involves] taxes, (and) that's public business. There's no exception that I am aware of that would apply (to this situation)."
Borough Secretary Judy Kerrick confirmed Thursday that the Jan. 17 meeting was not advertised for. She said she is tasked with submitting ads to The Daily Review when requested by council, but said she received no instruction to advertise for the impromptu meeting.
Dunn said the meeting happened on short notice, as that is when a township representative happened to be available. He said it took place at 5:30 p.m. on Jan. 17 inside the Monroeton Library.
Both Dunn and Shaw explained that during the meeting, officials discussed complications arising from the planned dike, which is not slated to be completed until 2017. Dunn said one of the topics of conversation was the removal of three gravel bars which prohibit the levee being built.
The group also discussed the removal of Canton Avenue, which is partially located within township jurisdiction, to make way for the levee, Dunn said.
The proposed dike is expected to be built out of dirt, which would be 10 feet high at its top and 30 to 60 feet at its base. Its purpose is to keep storm waters out of the borough that rise from the Towanda Creek, which runs along the municipality's eastern and southern borders. Monroeton was affected during the 2011 flood which left many local municipalities heavily damaged.
"They (Monroe Borough) invited us (Monroe Township supervisors)," Dunn said of the meeting. Dunn was the only township supervisor present for most of the meeting, with Vernon Perry appearing in the final minutes of the gathering, Dunn explained.
Dunn said the meeting was beneficial to him. "I got more information out of it than I knew," he said.
Shaw corroborated Dunn's details of the meeting.
Monroeton Mayor Jay Cory said he was in attendance at the meeting on Jan. 17 with borough and township officials. Cory said he was unaware of the illegality of the meeting until he was contacted for comment.
When asked for his opinion of the incident, Cory stated that he felt the meeting being unadvertised "was not purposely done." He went on to comment, "A minor, but important detail was overlooked." Cory also noted that councilmembers have been working toward informing the public about progress being made with the construction of the dike.
Councilwoman Brenda Munkittrick echoed Cory's statements.
"I don't think anyone was blatantly violating the law," she explained, "I don't think [council] knew it was supposed to be publicized. ... Seriously, we had nothing to hide. (There is) no reason we would have kept it not public if we knew we were supposed to advertise."
Borough Council President Dan Troup abruptly ended a telephone call with The Daily Review after being notified of the legal issues surrounding the meeting.
Tim Zyla can be reached at (570) 265-1634; email: firstname.lastname@example.org; or Twitter: @TimZyla.