In the political arena, the old saying about the duck seems appropriate far too often. You know the one...If it looks like a duck, and it quacks like a duck...well, it’s probably a duck. We’ve used this to draw attention to political hypocrisy more than once, and unfortunately must do so again.
We’ve also written before about the state open meeting law, known as the Sunshine Act. This law is designed to make sure the public is informed of meetings held by elected officials so that citizens can attend these meetings or at least have some idea that one is taking place.
The state law is pretty clear: Any committee of a government agency must advertise its meetings. That means all committees and all meetings...even boring ones that no one wants to attend, like the pension committee meetings.
When it comes to a meeting and a committee that could potentially influence the revitalization of a borough’s business district, well, that’s a no-brainer. The meetings need to be advertised. The public needs not only to be informed, but invited to participate.
So, imagine our surprise when we learned at last Tuesday’s Bellevue Council meeting that a new business district revitalization committee would be meeting the very next night at a local eatery.
This committee was among those appointed by new council president Mark Helbling, and is the newest form of the old Allegheny Together Business District Advisory Committee (whose meetings were always advertised). In charge of the committee is none other than six-year council veteran Kathy Coder, who is joined by director of administrative services Ron Borczyk and newcomer Matt Senvisky.
We, of course, immediately questioned whether the meeting had been advertised. We spoke with the solicitor, who agreed that it should have been. We spoke with Coder, informing her that the meeting was illegal. We also spoke with Helbling.
Imagine our surprise the next afternoon when we spoke with Borczyk on the phone and learned that the meeting had not been canceled. No one had said anything to him about the meeting being illegal. We subsequently received reports that the meeting was can-
celed after Borczyk checked with the solicitor. Borzcyk did not attend the meeting. Nor did the representative of the company hired by the county to coordinate the Allegheny Together program.
So, why were Coder and Senvisky sitting in that local eatery with a small, hand-picked group, that very evening?
Coincidence? Sure, why not? Anything is possible. But that’s where that darn duck comes in. This thing looked like a meeting. We’d be willing to bet there was discussion of the Allegheny Together program, so it most likely sounded like a meeting, too. Does anyone really doubt that it was a meeting, convened by people who had been advised by their solicitor that it was illegal to do so?
For those who are new to Bellevue’s political world, some Bellevue officials a few years back decided to do the same thing. They ended up in a courtroom. Since that time, the state has strengthened the teeth of the Sunshine Act, and violations are now handled directly by the court of common pleas, with increased fines.
Hopefully Bellevue’s duck will be penned, and none of us will ever have to see what happens to it in a county court.