Why don’t our employees want our neighbor to view these records?
For full disclosure: Rich Suminski is a donor to my current campaign for Derry Township Supervisor.
“I suspect he will run to the press. If asked, the less said on this, the better, in my view.”
~ Neil Shader, Pa Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) press officer, to DEP Secretary John Quigley, regarding citizen Scott Cannon’s request for communications about him.
Meanwhile, Rich Suminski is suing to be able to read correspondences between the Republican majority of the Derry Twp Board of Supervisors – Marc Moyer, John Foley, and Justin Engle, our Twp Manager Jim Negley, Parks and Rec Director Matt Mandia, and HRG, our engineering consultant. He wants to see communications among that quorum of our elected officials. Derry so far is declining to show him, despite a ruling by the Commonwealth in Suminski’s favor.
Call it a hunch, but we will find similar statements in our public records between our Derry Twp employees, regarding citizen Rich Suminski’s request for communications about him.
Suminski Stays Silent
“Since there will likely be another hearing, I am going to reserve public comment until all the proceedings have ended,” Suminski told me. Fair enough. Probably a good idea. So I dug in.
For background, Suminski’s case is docket 2015-0060, with prior determination by the Commonwealth of PA in Suminski’s favor, of March 16, 2015.
Here is further detail and correspondence.
The Court Date
After over 5 months of no substantial movement to comply by Derry Twp, on August 28, this Motion for review of this issue was made in Dauphin County Courts:
Motion for in camera review of Withheld Records 8-28-15
Jill Henry, Derry Twp Right-to-Know (RTK) Officer who is also our Assistant Twp Manager, was directed to testify at a hearing, on Sept 2. Henry did not show up at the hearing, so Suminski’s team could not question her under oath, about Derry Twp’s ongoing refusal to allow Suminsky copies of what he says are public documents. This despite the following “Notice to Attend,” wherein Suminsky’s attorney – Craig Staudenmaier of Nauman, Smith, Shissler & Hall – states that Henry “may be subject to the sanctions authorized,” by PA Rules of Civil Procedure.
Notice to Attend 8-28-15
Jon Yost, Derry Twp Solicitor, who was also instructed to attend, did so. He met in chambers with presiding Judge Bruce Bratton and Staudenmaier prior to the hearing. The hearing was scheduled to begin at 1:30 pm.
At 2:30, one court official, male with light thinning hair and glasses wearing a grey suit entered and told another court official, female with short blond hair wearing a pink blazer and glasses, that “they went to speak to Judge Lewis.” Judge Lewis is Dauphin County’s President Judge.
The hearing convened shortly thereafter, more than an hour late.
Derry was ordered to turn over all documents to the court and to Suminski by Friday of that same week. Documents were ordered to be numbered or otherwise sequentially annotated, by Derry Twp.
“Boxes” of Records
Suminski confirms that “a small package of materials” was provided on the due date. “It is one and 1/4 inches” thick, he approximated. Yost told Judge Bratton that there were “boxes” of records, holding his hands many inches apart.
Given these seemingly conflicting facts, it is unclear whether all records were delivered to Suminski as directed. Hopefully Henry appears at the next hearing, so she can be asked under oath, for us all to hear.
New RTK Attorney?
Sarah Yerger is an attorney with Post & Schell. She sat with Yost during the hearing, although she did not go into chambers with the others, nor did she speak during the hearing.
Yost told the court that Yerger “will be helping Derry Twp with these matters going forward.” Retention of such a politically connected law firm might be in response to problems with RTK requests, as recently reported in The Sun. The Derry Twp Board of Supervisors’ Chair John Foley has stated, at a recent public meeting, that “We’re spending thousands and thousands of dollars answering” RTKs. The Sun reports that “Foley said the requests have been repeatedly submitted by a specific individual for several months.”
But a source with knowledge of how many RTKs Suminski may have filed tells me “I think [there] are 8 over the last 2 years.” If approximately accurate, that is only one every 3 months. Certainly not enough to warrant a high-priced Harrisburg law firm. It seems someone could handle that specific individual’s RTKs for a fraction of the price. BUT before we jump to that, let’s find out exactly what this extra work load is.
We should do something commonsensical (and relatively cheap), like comparing the extra workload to the existing staff workload, and determine if we need that extra help. Some shuffling of duties might solve the problem. That would save the expense of hiring a lawyer (which typically runs hundreds of dollars per hour), just to make sure our employees don’t show us more than they have to…if that is the goal of our tax expenditure.
How much we citizens are paying or will pay this RTK Attorney, and whether it is projected to be a net benefit or loss, is anyone’s guess. Finding out will, no doubt, require someone to file an RTK Request.