HOLLIDAYSBURG - Discussions by Blair County commissioners about the proposed sale of Valley View Home and a related marketing proposal are expected to be conducted in public.
After reviewing a Lancaster County 2005 court case, part of which addressed commissioners' meetings held in anticipation of selling a county nursing home, county solicitor Nathan Karn said Friday that exceptions to the state's Sunshine Law apply only to the purchase or lease - not the sale - of real estate.
"I have advised the board of commissioners that two or all three of them may not meet outside of a duly advertised public meeting to discuss contents of the RFP [request for proposals] for the proposed sale of Valley View Home," Karn said. "Additionally, in order to be able to release the RFP to proposed buyers, they will approve the contents of the RFP at a duly advertised public meeting."
Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec
Blair County’s solicitor advised the commissioners not to meet outside of a public meeting to discuss the possible sale of Valley View Home.
Media attorney Melissa Melewsky of the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association said Thursday that Blair County commissioners were opening themselves to liability by holding executive sessions related to the sale of Valley View Home and by participating in development of an RFP that would not become public until it was ready for distribution to potential sellers.
Melewsky provided The Mirror with a grand jury ruling in the Lancaster County court case which the Mirror forwarded to Karn for review.
"The fact that this is so similar to the Lancaster County case should certainly catch their attention," Melewsky said.
When commissioners meet Tuesday, Karn said the board will be amending meeting minutes to indicate that previously-announced executive sessions related to the proposed sale of Valley View Home were informational meetings.
Karn said he attended the one on Sept. 27, for a presentation by Marcus & Millichap, the Chicago real estate investment firm which described its services and experience.
"No official action occurred, no deliberation occurred and no specific information about Valley View Home was even discussed," Karn said.
Melewsky said the problem with informational meetings is that they can sometimes generate discussions.
"There are cases that say [a governing body] can gather information, but once they start deliberating, they need to be doing that in public," she said.
Karn said that wasn't the case in the recent meetings incorrectly referred to as executive sessions.
Valley View Home employees are interested in hearing commissioners discuss the sale of the home within their public meetings, Service Employees International Union Healthcare representative Matthew Yarnell said Friday. Since learning of the commissioners interest in marketing Valley View, members have started attending weekly commissioner meetings.
"This is a home that made three-quarters of a million dollars last year, based on records submitted to the state Department of Health," Yarnell said. "It's not a major drain on tax dollars."
Commissioners have acknowledged that Valley View currently operates in the black, but they've also referred to it as a potential liability to the county and the county's taxpayers, based on changes within the health care industry, potential cuts to Medicare and Medicaid funding.
Commissioners voted Tuesday to sign an agreement allowing Marcus & Millichap to market the home at a listing price of $13.5 million.