The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

News

October 2, 2012

Empty chair awaits judge at commissioners' meeting

SUNBURY — There were more than 50 people at the Northumberland County commissioners’ meeting Tuesday, but they weren’t serving popcorn as the commissioners once again entertained audience members by prompting them to laugh, boo and cheer.

It started when two commissioners brought a prop, an empty chair, to the public meeting to illustrate their tiff with county Judge Charles Saylor.

Saylor, who was not in attendance, was asked by Commissioners Steve Bridy and Vinny Clausi to attend the meeting to watch them “adjust” his ruling that residents are allowed to be on county-owned land known as the Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area.

Bridy and Clausi voted to have county solicitors draft an ordinance that will permit only authorized individuals to use the land.

Commissioner Rick Shoch voted against the motion — for now.

The proposal will be voted on at a special meeting Oct. 15, but Shoch said he thinks the county needs more time to review the issue and speak with residents before he can make a decision.

Clausi and Bridy said the county has had plenty of time because for the last five years, the adventure area project has been under way and a policy is needed because of a booby trap recently found on the land.

“If something were to happen because we didn’t have a policy in place, the blood would be on your hands, Commissioner Shoch,” Bridy said. “We need to protect the residents of this county.”

After an hour of debate and heated exchanges between the commissioners, the subject of Saylor was discussed.

“The judge was invited here today so we could tell him exactly what we thought of his verdict,” Bridy said. “He should not have heard the case, and we wanted to tell him that to his face.”

Saylor ruled that Clausi and Bridy skirted the Sunshine Law by meeting individually with planning director Pat Mack and instructing him to write a letter to a Shamokin man banning him from entering the land rather than convening a public meeting to discuss who could have access to the publicly owned ATV park.

The commissioners placed a sign reading, “Reserved for the Honorable Judge Saylor,” on a desk chair in the public meeting room at the administration building.

The chair is only part of the two commissioners’ campaign against the judge. They promise to appeal his decision and maintain that following Saylor’s strict interpretation of the Sunshine Law would cripple their ability to operate. Under the Sunshine Law, any time a quorum of board members is involved in official deliberations, a public meeting should be convened.

The commissioners said Saylor should have recused himself from the case because he has disagreed with the commissioners previously.

“He can call me a grinch or a bully all he wants,” Clausi told the audience. “We did nothing wrong, and we will show that.”

Clausi, Bridy and Shoch argued for nearly the three hours of the meeting while several audience members voicing concerns about banning people from the park cheered, booed and laughed.

Shoch discussed the possibility of the county taking the show on the road and having public meetings throughout the county.

Clausi said the county tried that, and it was a disaster because it was too hard to hear people, record minutes and get people to attend.

Bridy said it would cost too much money and could become a legal issue if something were to happen.

Shoch asked that the board consider it, and Bridy said he would agree to look at all options and he wanted a report, even if the report came from Shoch himself.

“If Mr. Shoch wants to donate his time and go out and scout out places and see what is all involved, then I will look at it,” Bridy said. “He can give me a detailed report.”

Clausi voted no, and a woman took the microphone and simply said, “Please.”

“I can’t always make the day meetings,” she said. “I want to be able to come and watch you argue. You guys have a target on you for being in the position you are in, and I commend you, but there are some serious issues here, and I would like to be able to attend more meetings.”

Another women asked the commissioners to talk to each other.

“This has to stop,” she said. “You guys need to get along.”

For a minute, the commissioners discussed the possibility and “got along,” while passing a motion that the suggestion would be considered.

 

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