Friday, May 9, 2008

Let the sun shine in

The state's Sunshine Law is not the greatest effort at transparency in government that I've ever seen, but it's better than nothing.
Local governments and local school boards are supposed to abide by the law, but I'm not so sure everyone out there is playing by the rules.
Officials in the Methacton School District have apparently been telling a resident of the district that he may come into the administration building only during a two hour window to see documents.
That's just wrong.
I checked with the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association's resident expert on the Sunshine Law and she told me the district has to make public documents available during their regular operating hours.
I really don't think violating the state's Sunshine Law is in the best interest of the residents of the district, even if there are one or two residents who are a little more demanding than others.
While we're on the subject. What the heck are Norristown officials thinking with this new proposal to destroy public documents? Space is always at a premium, but some of these documents are not all that old.

27 comments:

Anonymous said...

What are Norristown officials thinking? That’s pretty obvious. So how much the 12 yearly council meeting tapes, or disc, weight and how much space do they take up? They really have to start thinking up better excuses for their actions. Norristown residents may not be a community of Rhoades scholars, but they aren't as feeble minded as they treat them. And don’t they care what other people think? That’s no way to build up a good public image for a town that says they have changed from the ways of the past.

Bill Shaw said...

It's not only documents, Stan.

On the morning that John Armstrong, Former Head of the Public Defender's Office, was summarily fired by Jim Matthews, your reporter, Margaret Gibbons had asked Bruce Castor if he knew of this beforehand.

Castor replied that he had just heard it himself, so therefore, Jim and Joe have, most likely, been having private meetings, in violation of the Sunshine Law.

Tom Borai, Audubon said...

Stan, Before anyone starts to run down Lower Providence Township on obtaining information on non classified material allow me to comment.

I have requested information in the past,the employees at the front counter have been extremely helpful in all respects.

There is a five day wait period if the information has to be researched, I have never been refused to this service.

I do not believe that one person get's preference over another in this instance, if so, it would be in the amount of time to receive the information.

Thank you for your time in this matter.

Anonymous said...

Just read that Norristown has sent out yellow door hangers in English and Spanish about the responsibilities of putting trash out. Haven't seen any yet, and the Hispanics keep on putting out boxes of trash and tires on the wrong days. The report also said trash containers with lids. Well, the garbage company is supposed to put the lids back on the containers, but they don't and one of my lids was broken and the container left upside down. In one of the codes, it mentions trash bags. So why don't you have your reporter check back with Norristown to clarify this garbage situation. You might also want to get the contract and list the penalties if the garbage company doesn't abide by it, too, not just the responsibilities of the residents. And, give out the email addresses of the code enforcement people so there can be a paper trail. They were all about penalizing residents for other criminals illegally dumping at their property instead of going after the real criminals.

Jim Mollick said...

Stan,

Document requests are regulated by the Right to Know Law and up until recently it has been incumbant upon the public to justify why we were entitled to a record. With the passage of the new law, it will now be encumbant upon the Boards and municipalities to justify why records are NOT public records for our review. They don't like that.

The Sunshine Law regulates Boards and Municipalities and how they conduct business. In Methacton, Executive sessions (private meetings for specific purposes) were not even being announced to the public. Even when they were announced, the reasons for holding meetings outside the public eye were not given.

In Worcester, the Solicitor, Mr. Garrity stated at a recent meeting that in no way shape or form is it improper for 2 or even 3 of the Supervisors to meet in private to discuss Township Business. With only 3 Supervisors in Worcester, a meeting of 2 or more is a Quorum and an illegal meeting. WOW!

The key.....Transparancy in Government.

Business should be conducted in public and in the open for obvious reasons.

Both Methacton and Worcester have passed 2 minute rules limiting the ability of the public to comment to only 2 minutes. This is another abuse of the Sunshine Law which mandates that the public be given a "reasonable" opportunity to comment. Is 2 minutes really reasonable?

People need to get involved and hold their government accountable. Let the Sun Shine.

Jim Mollick

The Sybil said...

Mr. Borai, maybe LP township is good at sharing documents, but Methacton is definitely not. It will get worse after January 1, 2009 because school board solicitors will spend a great deal of time and money still trying to prove that most school documents are not public.

Most government bodies have signs, signals, e-mails, and quiet dinners to get their business done, including the PA legislature who passed the new Sunshine Law but are the worst offenders.

Being an elected official means never needing to buy sunscreen again.

Tom Borai,Audubon said...

Sybil, My answer to Mr. Huskey's question was access to non-classified documents. I cannot comment on Methacton policies since my sons graduated in the 70s.

I will agree with you on the back room deals-e-mails-dinners at former politician homes-election deals on primary mailings and who paid for them,etc,etc.

How about a candidate notorizing her own petition when she ran for office this past primary election?

When you want to buy that sunblock, I recommend an SPF 50, I will spit the cost with you.

How many cases will we need???

Anonymous said...

It is almost impossible to get a full picture of the work of council members or school directors, and certainly, even with considerable dedication to follow what goes on in the District or a school is impossible.

But we trust school directors more. Their fingers are not directly in the money pot, and they seem to exude more professionalism in their responsibilities.

Still maintaining open records has a cost and there is the notion that all records should be as unavailable as possible until citizens demand that they have access. Unfortunately with this attitude, the records never get to be opened until damage is done to the municipaliy or the district. For example, how many members of the public knew how low the ratings have been for the NASD, even with their special burdens of poverty and language skills.

The quality of education produced is not discovered for a decade after a policy change affecting it. There's always more publicity about football or other sports, than about the principal reason schools exist.

The Sybil said...

Mr. Borai: I don't know how many cases of sunscreen we need, but the people at Johnson & Johnson just upped their earnings forecast.

May 13 Anonymous: School Boards have their fingers on a much larger money pot, it is multiple times the bill you receive for municipal and county taxes. That is why some of us do not understand why taxpayers do not attend meetings and try to understand how school boards are spending their money.

This has nothing to do with senior citizens who are understandably worried about tax increases of any kind; it has everything to do with the rest of the community. It is not enough to trust. School board policies should reflect, and be responsive to, the will and the priorities of the community, not just a handful of people.

We should carry Sunshine into their meetings whether the boards like it or not.

Nite Worker said...

Now that Lower Providence Township (thank you Mr. Brown) is televising their meetings, I would like to know when Methacton School Board will vote to televise their meetings and work sessions. They spend most of our tax dollars and I would like the ability to watch what goes on over there. I work nights and can't get to their meetings. The technology is right in their building as I understand it. What gives?

Trooper Mary said...

If Lower Providence is televising their meetings why can't we taxpayers get it on verizon???? What good is it if only comcast customers receive the service. Someone told me the school district controls this,can anyone shed light on this problem? Thank you.

Tim said...

To Nite Worker,
Methacton School Board will NEVER allow their meetings to be taped and televised. We have all seen the "You Tube" recordings of the actions of the board members. If you go and disagree with them your are labeled and dismissed. Methacton was once a great school district with a fantastic reputation but with the current leadership it is simply a disgrace.

Anonymous said...

Just a side note on Methacton schools. Last year the school board directors pushed so hard for the new 5/6 school stating overcrowding at all of the elementary schools. Guess what?, there's not even enough kindergarten students at Audubon this coming year to make up 3 full classess ( the past few years there have always been 4 full classes). Enrollment is trending down. I'd like to see these projections again and revisit this issue of whether we really need the 5/6 school at all. Are these numbers open to the public or are they keeping them hush-hush until after the school is built and we absorb the higher taxes? I'm wondering what the other elementary schools are seeing in the district. It was not that many years ago that Audubon was completely shut down for low enrollment numbers. If anyone from the school baord is reading this blog, can you post the enrollment numbers for 2008/2009 so far? Perhaps John Andrews was correct in his estimations?

Anonymous said...

The ugly fact, Norristown and other townships should know is that all the records,including notes that are generated over the course of a year can be reduced to a single DVD, and all the historial records on paper since the incorporation of Norristown 200years ago,could be reduced to electronic images and stored on a two foot shelf.

So when Norristown officials say they don't have space for records, the truth is they don't have space for imagination and the future.

After seeing what happened in Norristown four years ago and the other day in Limerick, perhaps they have other motivations in wanting all records destroyed without regard to age.

Rick Brown said...

To Trooper Mary,

Lower Providence Township has franchise agreements with both Comcast and Verizon that provide for our community access channel to be broadcast on their lineup. Currently this is channel 28 with Comcast. Verizon has been working on their network to provide the same community access channel being viewed by Comcast customers. Stay tuned, it shouldn't be long.

Audubon Jane said...

To Niteworker,

Yes, you are right, Lower Providence Township does televise their meetings. This has been a good thing, the crew seems to be dressing the part at least and Dininny doesn't blow his horn as long as he use to. What we need to see is what is going on behind the closed doors for what they claim is an exec session, those sessions last longer than their meetings. What goes Chairman Dininny??

Anonymous said...

Why thanks to Rick Brown for televised twp meetings? Curious, not only was it a 5-0 vote to televise, but it was Chair Dininny who proposed it & directed staff to research feasability and costs to do provide such a service last year. All Rick had to do was show up and vote. Since it was a no-brainer, of course he voted in favor of it. He fights everything that isn't a fuzzy feel good vote. I guess he would have looked like he had something to hide if he wasn't in favor of it.

Collegeville Mole said...

Thanks to the modern day ways of communication. If nothing else it has dressed up the Board of Supervisors. Mr. Dininny has found the way of a tie and jacket. Mr. Sassu has put away his communion coat. The previous writer said it was Dininny who pioneered the idea of televising the township meetings. If I recall correctly it was Mr. Dunbar who originally proposed the idea and Mrs Crahalla who seconed the idea. Please if your going to make statements, be sure of your information. Save it for the 2009 primaries.

Anonymous said...

The Professor Speaks:
Audubon Jane has correctly commentented that the Lower Providence Board of Supervisors has certainly cleaned up their act since television has arrived in our Township and what a positive improvement; Mr. Dininny has definitely stopped his long boring sermons and has yet to attack Mr. Borai for asking a question, and now if we can possibly manage to get Mrs. Alteri to move her body every few minutes to insure that she is still alive and functioning, would be another improvement in our Towwnship meetigs.

Anonymous said...

I think televising is great, then the public can decide for themselves whether it's Dininny or, in reality, Borai or others doing the 'attacking', insulting and wasting taxpayer time with the same retread statements and questions over and over again, which is what it looks like to me.

It's sad to watch some of these people with apparently nothing better to do, but at least we can change the channel.

Tom Borai, Auidubon said...

Hey hide behind the anonymous signature. When was the last time you saw my face on the Township Channel? I haven't been to a meeting since they started to televise the meetings.If you call asking questions on Township problems "attacking" and "insulting" your fat tush belongs on the couch. You can sit there and even have a cold one while you enjoy the show. Anytime you would like to discuss my views and what I do with my time, give me a call, I'm in the book.

Anonymous said...

Intersting comments as always...just want to chime in on the school district issue....the methacton directors are doing such a horrible job that the property values are 20% higher than in surrounding townships with the quality of the district as the main reason....i live in west norriton, wish we had their directors here.

Tom Borai, AUDUBON said...

Mr. Huskey, In the coverage of your blogs, there's a Collegeville Mole, Conshohocken Mole you now need an Audubon Mole. I would like to take on that challange, I'll use my pen name. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous of May 27,11:31 P.M. if you had the time to read the Times Herald article on the ARC Planning Commission Meeting on the 28th of May you would have seen how much time was wasted by the tax payers of L.P. It's people like you who can sit in thier nice little cubby hole and call the shots the day after the fact. It's people like you who say nothing unless it happens in your back yard. I believe they call people like youo NIMBY"s. Maybe you should attend a meeting and see how the system really works.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 5/16 - Most townships and the schools within have no idea how their records should be stored. They also are unaware of the difference between their mailing address and the location of their buildings. If perhaps they would use the township, instead of Norristown or Eagleville as the location of their meetings, more interest would be shown. Methacton is located in Fairview Village, Worcester Township, not Norristown or at least my taxes are paid to that Methacton School District. We should not be considered a part of Norristown's School System and I do believe they would prefer it that way too.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 6/2, Don't use the shredder. Files or scraps of paper with notes of a meeting that was held,are important. The Steno. Clerk may not have gotten the clear picture of what was actually discussed and statements made in connection with the meeting is why we need to hang on to documents on DVD,we need to get with newer methods..get rid of the clutter.

Anonymous said...

Just maybe the Postal System needs to think before they change the towns, but maintain the same zip.
Definitions: Mail - A system used in the public sending & delivering letters/parcels through the Agency of the Post Office. Zip Code - A 5 or 9 Digit Code to identify each Postal Delivery Area in the USA. Address - Direction for Deliver on the outside of an envelope/package. LOCATION - A Locality Of Or For A Building.
Maybe this can help Schools and other organizations to know the difference as Anonymous stated.