The North East Township supervisors meet on Monday, twice a month discussing and voting on township business. On occasion there is little on the agenda beyond a few announcements and updates about ongoing projects, but at other times there are important matters dealing with major expenditures, final approval for zoning changes or the first notice of upcoming plans. Whatever is being discussed, it is important to someone, sometimes just a few individuals, but at other times the entire township could be affected, however, whether filled with discussion items or having only a few, the agenda for the meeting is not available to the public before you literally walk in the door at the township building on the day of the meeting.
Do you know what they are talking about?
If a topic important to you is going to be discussed you have no way to know. The discussion could be brought up, briefly debated, voted on and done without your knowledge or input. If they get no questions from the public the decision depends on whatever information the supervisors have at hand and their own experience, even if their own information and experience in that particular area is limited.
Why don’t they want you to know beforehand?
The first time, many months ago, the supervisors were asked to post the agenda online, there was some discussion, the meeting moved on and later we were pleased to see the upcoming agenda was on the township site. At the next meeting, when thanking the supervisors we were surprised when supervisor Gus Neff stated that he was not in favor of doing so, he thought everyone should be able to have a chance to be on the agenda right up until the last minute. Of course, they could allow last minute additions, when absolutely necessary, while still posting the majority of the agenda with a note that it was subject to change, but, following Gus Neff’s objections, the agenda has not been posted since.
Are the reasons for not posting agendas valid?
Gus Neff has stated he believes there is a legal issue if an agenda is posted and later another item is added at the meeting. That doesn’t seem to be a problem for the majority of municipalities in Erie County, but, perhaps, he is aware of some unique circumstance affecting the township. He more recently said he was following a court case about something similar, but that, too, was now some months ago and no update has been given and no agendas have appeared, so we will again ask the supervisors to post the upcoming agenda on the township site.
Why not a simple deadline?
Everyone is familiar with deadlines when dealing with normal government operations. We have a deadline for renewing our driver’s license and auto registration, there are deadlines when registering to vote and paying our taxes, we deal with these every day. Why not have a deadline for getting on the agenda for a township supervisors meeting, perhaps by end of business on Thursday so the agenda can be posted on Friday morning? That way, residents have 3 days to see the agenda before the Monday meeting and if something is important, they can arrange their schedule and be sure to attend. If someone does not know by Thursday afternoon they want to be on the agenda, they only need to wait two weeks to appear at the next meeting. Last minute additions should be discouraged to give residents the chance to know what is going to be discussed, to listen to those discussions and add input if they have concerns.
Do you think transparency is important?
Posting agendas before the meeting demonstrates the desire for greater transparency in all government plans and actions. It also shows respect for the residents, taxpayers and voters by giving them time to prepare. Refusing to put up agendas before a meeting appears to show just the opposite. Does anyone really think that is a good idea?
UPDATE: We again asked about posting the agenda on the website while attending the regular supervisors meeting on August 17th. Gus Neff said it was not a court case he was referring to, but a notice he saw on the PSATS (PA State Association of Township Supervisors) website about a problem with items being discussed that were not on the posted agenda. He asked the township solicitor for his opinion who said he could understand the problem of discussing non agenda issues, but also noted that if the agenda clearly stated it was tentative or subject to change it should not be a problem. Mr. Neff said he would take up the issue again with the other supervisors.