PA Sunshine Act Requires Tredyffrin’s Interim Supervisor Candidates to be Interviewed in Public

At the January 3 meeting, township supervisor Bob Lamina formally announced a board vacancy.  Interested residents were invited to submit their resumes to the township manager by January 10.  The process for appointing a new supervisor as explained by Lamina was that the candidates would be interviewed by the supervisors and then a vote and appointment would take place at the February 7 Board of Supervisors meeting. 

This process appeared to be straightforward to me.  As you know, I called the township manager and received the names of the five individuals that had submitted resumes.  I contacted the candidates and asked for their resumes, bio, etc. Three of the candidates (John Bravacos, Eamon Brazunas, and Kristen Mayock) supplied the information to me and the other two candidates (Mike Heaberg, Joe Muir) choose not to provide the information. In lieu of a resume from these two candidates, I provided a short bio.

What a difference a day makes!  After numerous calls, emails, etc. I now understand that Pennsylvania’s Sunshine Act complicates what appeared to be a simple, straightforward process to interview the interim supervisor candidates.  Under the Sunshine Law, the selection of a replacement supervisor is required to proceed in a fashion that is substantially different from what would likely be the case in a non-municipal setting.

At the beginning of each township supervisor meeting, the chair of the Board of Supervisors announces the topics that were discussed in Executive Session.  There are only three topics that qualify for private discussion (for purposes of reaching a decision) by the supervisors.  Those three, that qualify under certain circumstances for Executive Session consideration involve: 1) certain legal related items; 2) certain real estate acquisition related items; and 3) certain personnel related items.  The twist with #3 (and the reason that interviewing supervisor candidates does not qualify) is that a township supervisor is not an employee, from the standpoint of qualifying as a ‘personnel type’ that may qualify for executive session activity.  In other words, the whole process, including the interviews for a replacement interim supervisor, is required by the Sunshine Act to occur in advertised public meetings. 

If you are  interested in further information, here is a link to the Sunshine Act,  http://www.openrecordspa.org/sunshine.html  A statement to consider from the Open Records website, “Open meetings are the basis for positive discussions between citizens and their elected officials. Government decisions should not be made in secret.”

So what does all this mean for the selection of an interim supervisor for Tredyffrin . . . ?  It seems clear to me that the Sunshine Act requires public agencies to hold open meetings, provides for behind-closed-doors executive sessions in certain cases but specifically prohibits ones “involving the appointment or selection of any person to fill a vacancy in any elected office.”  There is a regularly scheduled Board of Supervisors meeting on Monday, January 24 where the interview process of prospective interim supervisor candidates could take place.  Since all Board of Supervisors meetings are advertised, I am guessing there would be no additional advertising (or expense) to the township.  On the other hand, if I understand the Sunshine Act correctly, a Special Supervisors Meeting could be scheduled (and advertised) for interviewing the candidates. 

However, the clock is ticking . . . so I suppose that the township manager, solicitor and Board of Supervisors are working on the next step to schedule the interview date for the five candidates.  Again, remember you can still submit your resumes through Monday, January 10 to the township manager, Mimi Gleason at mgleason@tredyffrin.org.  Having received emails/phone calls for me to encourage her, I am going to have another conversation with Judy DiFilippo and see if I can convince her to submit her resume to fill the interim supervisor position.

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11 Comments

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  1. Pattye – Can you remind us what happened when Bill de Haven’s vacancy was filled? Was there an application process? Interviews? Or was the decision made in a smoke-filled room?

    1. Bill DeHaven resigned from the board for health issues. If I recall correctly, the chairs of the local Republican (TTRC) and Democratic ((DEMS) parties (at the time) agreed on John Shimrak to fill in as an interim supervisor. John was a former supervisor and would not be a candidate for the vacant seat. The Board of Supervisors voted on John and he served the remainder of Bill’s term. I know John personally and he was a great choice.

      However, in my opinion, this process of filling the interim supervisor vacancy was tainted by the involvement of the local political parties in the process. Supervisors (not their political parties) are elected to serve all the people and should make decisions without influence of political parties. Do I know if there were other applicants? No. Do I know if the interim position was advertised? No, but it is doubtful. Do I know if John was interviewed? No, I don’t know. But if there was an interview, I don’t recall it being done at a public meeting. Again, although the process may have been tainted, I think that John Shimrak was a good choice as interim supervisor.

  2. John — To be clear, Bob Lamina did not say that the interviews would be in private — he just didn’t say they would be held in public. I assumed because Bob made no reference about the interviews being public that they would be in private. Had I understood the Sunshine Act the night of the Board of Supervisors meeting, I would have gone to the mic and asked when the interviews would be held. I honestly did not know that the supervisors interviews had to held at a public meeting until yesterday . . . but then again I am not a supervisor.

  3. Oooops…there goes John Petersen again, criticizing and condemning without any factual basis. Now maybe, the Board has no plans to conduct public interviews, but then again, maybe they do. How can you call JD Bonaventura, Bob Lamina and the others incompetent when you have no idea whether or not they have made the decision which forms the basis for questioning their competence?

    Let us see if John Peterson will retract his comment until the decision has been made known to us.

  4. I think Mr. Petersen has been on vacation — several people posted on this subject including anon80, Sarah, Andrea, Pattye and various others. I personally posted this two or three posts back. Nothing like waking a sleeping dog…..

    Anyway — here’s the older post:

    Here is an article in the Southern Chester County Dailies regarding a vacancy in Franklin Township regarding filling a supervisor position (Dick Whipple)

    http://www.southernchestercountyweeklies.com/articles/2010/11/07/opinion/doc4cd2ca4709889302409103.txt

    Published Nov 2010 –
    .explains the vacancy and what qualifications are required……then says:

    “Please include information about your background that will help the board as they review candidate qualifications. The board of supervisors will discuss potential candidates at their regularly scheduled meetings on Nov. 10 and 17. The public is welcome to attend.

    So, it’s now specified on the township Web site what date letters of interest must be submitted by – Tuesday, Nov. 9.

    It’s not yet specified what date a vote will be held (to select a replacement Supervisor) at a public meeting.

    Under the Sunshine Law, and various other open government rules and regulations, the selection of a replacement supervisor is required to proceed in a fashion that’s substantially different from what would likely be the case in a non-municipal setting. There are only three topics that qualify for private discussion (for purposes of reaching a decision) by volunteer elected representatives. Those three, generally speaking, that qualify under certain circumstances for Executive Session consideration involve: 1) certain legal related items; 2) certain real estate acquisition related items; 3) certain personnel related items.

    The twist with No. 3 is that a township supervisor is not an employee, from the standpoint of qualifying as a personnel type item that may qualify for executive session activity. Instead, the whole process, including interviews for a replacement supervisor, are required by the Sunshine Law and/or other Open Meeting statutes to occur in advertised public meetings.

    This is one of the many ways where actions, or non actions, by government entities differ substantially from those typically followed by non-government entities. “

  5. The township is 300 years old and we are finally seeing accountability and transparency from our elected officials. About time, thank you.

  6. I agree with John Petersen . I watched the BOS meeting and Tom Hogan did not say one word. It did not look like there was any plans for a public meeting to interview.

    1. That’s right Local Resident. . .nothing was said about holding a public interview. Then again, nothing was said about holding about holding a private interview.

      So what you are saying is that you will join John Petersen in assuming facts that you do not know to be true and, then, launch an attack based on what is nothing more than unsubstantiated supposition. Classic.

      As for me, I will reserve judgment until the truth comes out. I find that it is usually a good policy to know what you are talking about before you engaging in criticism.

  7. I’m pretty sure I said this early on when Pattye announced the intentions for interviews. When we were faced with replacing vacancies on the school board, we were clearly aware that the interviews had to be done in the public. School boards have the PSBA — Penn. School Boards Association — and we attended workshops to learn about the job and to be brought up to speed on issues surrounding school districts. I don’t know whose responsibility it is to bring our BOS up to speed on these issues, but it’s worth asking. As long as they agreed now that they are aware of it, I’m satisfied.

  8. I said this in another post, but really, does anyone out there think for one moment that the selection has not ALREADY been made??

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