Exeter supervisors looking at ways to reduce right-to-know requests
David Speece, chairman of the Exeter Township board of supervisors, said they are working on methods to minimize the abundance of right-to-know requests the township receives.
Pennsylvania’s new Right To Know laws took effect on Jan. 1, 2009, giving citizens the ability to request and access documents that may have been previously shielded from public view.
Exeter Township received 236 right-to-know requests in 2019. Both costs and manpower are said to have posed a challenge to the administration in order to fulfill the requests.
“A lot of townships have dedicated people that do nothing but handle this kind of information. We do not have that right now,” Speece said.
Michele Gilbert, interim township manager, asked the board if they’d like to continue creating a monthly right-to-know report.
The township began releasing right-to-know request reports to the public in July of 2019. The reports included a detailed list of requests including the requester’s name, the information requested, and the time it took to deliver the information to the requester.
Galtere asked why the practice of generating a monthly report is in place, which Speece replied, stating the purpose of the report was to determine if progress was being made in reducing requests.
Galtere also added that he didn’t believe requester names should be included in the report.
“I think what that does is kind of create some animosity,” Galtere said.
Various methods to combat the volume of requests were proposed including having dedicated staff and introducing a government committee that could help citizens find information.
“If we look at Limerick for example, instead of us getting into right-to-know requests and then sending it to legal counsel and going back and forth and spending this money, they’ve decided to hire their own paralegal which does all of this in house,” Speece said.
Supervisors decided to continue generating the monthly report, but asked that future reports only include the topic of requests and remove requester names and incurred costs.
In other business:
The board approved advertising for the position of township manager. Supervisors announced at the January 6th board reorganization meeting that they were not renewing the contract of John Granger.
Exeter police chief Wendell Morris said a new policy that prohibited police officers from leaving their vehicle engines idling saved $9,800 in fuel savings for 2019.
Engineer Joe Rogosky believes the East Neversink Road underpass work near the Trout Run Sports Complex will continue into the spring with an estimated completion date going into March of April of this year.
Resident David O’Donald notified the board during public comment that a pyrotechnics group is interested in hosting a 5-hour fireworks show at the Neversink Gun Club on Saturday, March 7. Further approval and notification to the public of the event will be handled by the township.
During a solicitor report, Edward P. Kelly, Fox Rothchild LLP, stated that allegations of criminal conduct were made against a former supervisor.
Kelly indicated the accused supervisor has elected to hire their own legal counsel.
“Based on the research that we performed, mere allegations of criminal conduct with no substantial [evidence]… in that event, the township is responsible for payment of the legal fees for that supervisors defense,” Kelly said.
Kelly also cautioned that if the supervisors did not authorize paying for the public defense, the township could incur additional legal costs.
Supervisors approved authorizing the township paying for the public defense of a former supervisor with a vote of 4-1.
Supervisor Michelle Kircher voted against the authorization, saying that she wanted more time to examine the issue and that she was only made aware at the meeting.
Speece indicated all supervisors were made aware immediately via email over the weekend.
The township issued a press release on Friday to offer clarification on the criminal allegations. In the statement, the issue is said to stem from a citizen’s complaint against supervisors serving prior to 2020 and that the investigation is routine.
Officials said they are not aware of any facts to substantiate the complaint and that the township will submit all fees incurred responding to the inquiry to its insurance carrier for reimbursement.
While an investigation by the Berks County District Attorney’s office is ongoing, no criminal charges have been filed.
Should the supervisor be charged and found guilty, they would be required to reimburse the township all legal expenses.
Officials did not state the name of the former supervisor who requested counsel or the specific allegations made against any former supervisors.