Did Pottsville Area School District Break Sunshine Laws?
The Pottsville Area School District school board likely violated Pennsylvania’s Sunshine Act when it met Wednesday night, Feb. 27.
It’s probably the least news-worthy item to come from that meeting but still worth mentioning.
When responding to a question about the notice given for the meeting, the district’s business manager Brian Manning admitted guilt.
The meeting held last night was supposed to be held on Feb. 20. However, a winter storm forced it cancelled.
The school posted a notice on its Facebook page. Here is that notice:
Manning says there was also a notice on the district’s website.
Neither of those comes remotely close to qualifying as Public Notice. If these are the only places where the re-scheduled meeting was published, it’s clear violation of Pennsylvania’s Sunshine laws.
How Pottsville Broke Pennsylvania’s Sunshine Laws
The Pennsylvania Sunshine Act, 65 Pa.C.S. §§ 701-716 clearly states that elected bodies like the Pottsville school board are REQUIRED to post public notice of any meetings. They’re not permitted to meet in private.
Any meeting not advertised is considered private and illegal.
Clearly, the school board did meet and it was attended. However, a school board or a borough/city council must advertise meetings in the “newspaper of record” locally. In this case, it means a meeting must be advertised in the (Pottsville) Republican-Herald.
If the school would have placed an ad in the newspaper — essentially, a really long classified ad — Manning would have stated this. It’s not cheap.
The rules are really clear. Here’s what’s published about Pennsylvania’s Sunshine laws on the Office of Open Records page:
Why is a Facebook notice not enough?
Well, consider how often you don’t see something posted on Facebook. It’s probably been years since you’ve seen something from some “friends” on your list. That’s all part of Facebook’s algorithm. It’s what they use to keep Trump supporters from seeing each others’ posts so they believe they’re increasingly alone in their thinking.
You can see by the amount of Likes and Shares the post has gotten on Facebook (screen shot taken on Feb. 28), the district’s “reach” on Facebook is rather limited. There’s no telling who even saw the post. The school knows only how many people actually saw that post.
Should We Lock Them Up?
The penalties for Pottsville breaking the Sunshine Act are rather mild. However, it is OUR money they’ll be forced to pay if they’re found in violation.
At any time last night, a member of the public could have raised concern over the meeting. They likely would have been laughed down by the school board.
If you want to make the school board pay for this violation, it requires a lawsuit to be filed against the school. You can file that complaint at the Court of Common Pleas.
“Any complaint must be filed within 30 days of the public meeting in which the alleged infraction occurred,” OOR says.
If it’s found that the Pottsville school board was trying to hide the meeting — hard to do considering they DID post some notice, just carelessly — there could be criminal charges. However, it’s just a civil penalty. The first offense costs between $100 and $1,000. A second offense costs between $500 and $2,000.