Reade derails progress

Pennsylvania has a Sunshine Law for good reasons. One of them is to avoid questionable situations like the one that has evolved over the past month in Cambria County’s Reade Township.

Reade, which has experienced much controversy in the past but seemed headed in the right direction based on actions at meetings Jan. 2 and Jan. 8, has taken a huge step backward for which a detailed public account and explanation are necessary without delay.

Reade residents should demand it, and so should state officials who monitor municipal compliance with existing state laws and regulations.

There’s significant reason to believe that even if two Reade supervisors — John McElheny and Jim Igou — didn’t actually violate the Sunshine Law, they at least violated the spirit of it.

The state should feel compelled to make a full determination of the sequence of events that began with Supervisor Don Rickard’s letter of resignation on Jan. 9. That should be followed by an official opinion about whether any rules or laws actually were ignored or violated.

Such a process is necessary, not only as a source of information for township residents, but also as a basis for confidence that their municipality is operating within the bounds of good-government policies and practices — or will do so, going forward.

At the center of the situation now engulfing Reade is whether McElheny and Igou put the proverbial cart before the horse. Information within the state Department of Community and Economic Development indicates that Reade had informed DCED on or about Jan. 30 that resident Bill Phillips had become a township supervisor.

That was six days prior to McElheny and Igou having officially accepted Rickard’s resignation and having voted to appoint Phillips to fill the board of supervisors vacancy.

In most cases, the Sunshine Law prohibits officials from voting or holding discussions outside of the purview of the public. A copy of the Sunshine Law posted to the state Office of Open Records website stipulates that executive sessions — closed-door meetings — cannot be held for “any meeting involving the appointment or selection of any person to fill a vacancy in any elected office.”

The obvious question now is how Phillips supposedly came aboard — officially, based on DCED records — without any direct discussion by McElheny and Igou in an advertised public session prior to the supervisors’ Feb. 5 meeting.

While state law supposedly didn’t require that the vacancy be advertised to seek applicants — Rickard’s letter of resignation said the resignation was effective immediately, although not officially accepted until Feb. 5 — McElheny and Igou would have acted admirably by doing so.

It would have allowed them to weigh interest and qualifications, even though there isn’t cause for questioning Phillips’ abilities in regard to the position.

The bottom line is that residents of a municipality have a right to attend all meetings and witness all deliberations of public agencies, except for the special situations that the Sunshine Law outlines. It appears that the two Reade supervisors deviated from what is mandated.

Reade, which earlier this year had seemed to be on the right track, must get back on the right track.

Some of what happened last month is troubling, if not actually having been illegal.