Why don’t our employees want our neighbor to view our records? But more crucially: what can We The (theoretically sovereign) People do when they defy us?
For full disclosure: Rich Suminski was a donor to my campaign for Derry Township Supervisor, which ended with the General Election of Nov 3, 2015.
#NotJustDerry – PA’s Right-to-Know
~ 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. Such was unknown and unknowable, until Cannon filed a Right-to-Know (an RTK) request.
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.
#NotJustDerry2 – Harrisburg’s / Dauphin County’s Right-to-Know
Defying orders from their superiors is common with governments around here. In addition to PA (above), Harrisburg City, right next door, was ordered many months ago to give former mayor Steven Reed his public records. Like Suminski, Reed is still able to mound on the cash to fight back too, unlike almost everyone who is denied their documents wrongfully, who can’t. Note how in every similar case one might find on this issue, the more powerful and well-funded entity – the public one – never responds until the last possible minute allowed…then ask your employees why that occurs like clockwork (no pun). Ultimately, it is the taxpayers who pay for the arrogance of “our” public servants.
#NotJustDerry3 – USA’s Right-to-Know
How 2 Independent Journalists And A Lawyer Held Chicago Police Accountable For Teen’s Death. The group pried loose shocking dashcam video showing the police shooting of 17 year-old Laquan McDonald, 16 times. Initially buried by CPD as self-defense, McDonald was, per police accounts, “shot after lunging at officers with a knife.”
The RTK efforts were the only reason We The People won “an unprecedented first-degree murder charge against Officer Jason Van Dyke, the first time an on-duty cop has been charged with the offense.”
Bravo to these brave sovereign citizens. But it is absolutely astounding to me that we have reached the point where our citizens must fight their employees in court to get our information those employees gather for us. ‘1984’. We are living it.
Onto our little saga:
Derry’s Right-to-Know – 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 in September, although by November, he was spurred to correct Chairman Foley’s lies about him.
Fair enough. Probably a good idea. So I dug in.
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:
Jill Henry, Derry Twp 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 Suminski’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.
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.
Nov. 6 UPDATE – Next Hearing Scheduled – Will Henry Decide to Obey Our Courts?
Thursday, Jan 7, 2016, 1:30 pm
Suminski vs Derry
Courtroom #6, Fifth Floor
Dauphin County Courthouse
Once again, Derry’s RTK officer ‘ordered and decreed’ to appear:
Will they arrest Henry if she blows this hearing off again, because she feels like it?
Or will they just ‘order and decree’ again, and waste another half year waiting to see if she feels like obeying the courts?
A source very close to the case says that “If she does not show, without good excuse on reasonable prior notice, second time around likely Judge will issue a bench warrant.”
We’ll see. She does hide behind the full force and influence of the Derry Twp GOP, who apparently will spend as much of OUR money as it takes to keep as little information dribbling out for as long as it can.
She is as guilty as everyone else complicit with this cover-up, which against all conceivable odds, kept these public documents buried until Marc Moyer could win re-election. She is also as likely to face any meaningful consequence, from our complacent citizenry.
I will be at the hearing, barring something of utmost importance, and will update this: the only account of the ongoing mockery of justice.