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Public’s right to comment

June 16, 2018 GMT

The Springdale Township Board of Commissioners has made a change in the way that it conducts its meetings that deserves to be met with outrage.

Or, should we say, commissioners President Anthony Rozzano has.

When the commissioners opened the public comment portion of its meeting June 7, Rozzano announced that residents would only be allowed to comment on agenda items (things that the board intended to act on that night), but the public wasn’t allowed to bring up anything else that concerned them — or even ask questions about topics on the agenda.

“That’s the way the meeting is going to be,” Rozzano told the residents in attendance.

To their credit, more than a dozen walked out.

The new policy took Commissioner Henrietta James by surprise, because the board hadn’t voted on it.

Solicitor Stephen Yakopec said the board could vote on such policy, but the chairman has the authority to run the meeting as he sees fit.

Melissa Melewsky, lawyer for the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, argues that Rozzano’s actions raise serious legal concerns.

“A policy that prohibits questions and comments that do not address agenda items raises significant legal issues” under the state open meetings law, she said.

The Sunshine Act guarantees the public’s right to comment on government concerns — whether or not they’re on the agenda.

“Public meetings are the best place for residents to bring issues to the attention of their elected officials, who can’t possibly know everything that happens in the township,” Melewsky said, stating what seems to be obvious to everyone but Rozzano.

Melewsky acknowledges that there is no law requiring the commissioners to answer questions at their meetings.

No, it’s simply common sense.

Rozzano clearly sees himself as a “take charge” guy. He’s the same guy, with the votes of two new commissioners who were sworn in just that night, voted Jan. 2 to sell a fire truck it owns that’s used by the Allegheny Valley Volunteer Fire Company. Both the fire company president and its chief protested the move, calling it “sneaky and uncalled for.”

Rozzano later defended that vote at the reorganization meeting because “nothing ever gets done in this town.”

“I’m a productive person,” he said. He said something similar after his “No Questions” edict.

We question the logic behind his seemingly snap decisions that risk being a detriment to the governance of the township.

The rest of the five-member board needs to bring the policy to a vote and create rules that will allow the public to comment — or ask questions — about any pertinent subject involving township services or government.