The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

Line Mountain Region

February 13, 2013

County commissioners adopt new limits on public comment

SUNBURY — The Northumberland County commissioners met for the second time in 2013 on Tuesday, and the fireworks continued as the three members argued over a new two-minute public comment rule and whether or not to call an outside source to investigate the use of grant money.

Commissioner Vinny Clausi made a motion to adopt a new rule for the conduct and order of business during county meetings.

From now on, residents will have two minutes to speak on agenda items and in public comment portions of the monthly meetings. Each speaker will state his name and address, and in the event a large number of participants wish to speak, the board will have the right to have them all sign their names.

Residents will not be allowed to make scandalous, slanderous, profane, obscene, vulgar or threatening comments.

The chairman will have the discretion of granting a speaker additional time.

The board passed the new rules by a 2-1 vote, with Clausi and Commissioner Steve Bridy in favor and Commissioner Rick Shoch opposed.

Shoch contented the public should be allowed to speak on issues involving the county, and that as long as it was a reasonable time, they should not have to worry about reaching two minutes and being cut short.

Bridy and Clausi said two minutes is a reasonable time.

The commissioners also discussed the Feb. 7 deadline for the county to repay $215,000 to the state Department of Community and Economic Development for dispersed funds intended to help those who were homeless or about to become homeless in 2009.

The county participated in a federal Housing and Urban Development Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program that distributed $1.5 billion to those in need around the country.

Northumberland County received $365,361 of that grant money through DCED, some of which was used for administration and management fees.

The county was found to owe the $215,000 and was given until Feb. 7 to repay it, but after a meeting with U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, R-11 of Hazleton, a 30-day extension was granted.

Barletta met with the commissioners last week during a visit to Sunbury, and all three asked Barletta to intervene on behalf of the county.

Barletta immediately sent a letter and made a phone call to DCED, and Shoch said he believed the extension was given, although the county has not received a formal letter.

Shoch said even with the extension, he believes the commissioners should ask an outside agency to investigate what went wrong.

“I am not accusing anyone here,” Shoch said. “I just think it would be a good idea for us as a board to show unity and send a letter to an outside agency to come here and investigate this and investigate anything else they see fit.”

Clausi and Bridy disagreed with Shoch and said if Shoch wants to call in an outside agency, he should do it on his own.

“I don’t see why we all have to send the letter,” Bridy said. “If you want to, then you as a commissioner can do so.”

Shoch said there were too many “red flags” in the program and he would feel safer for county residents if an outside investigation was conducted.

“I don’t see why it would be bad for someone else to come here and look under our hood,” he said. “I think it would make sense.”

Clausi said he has contacted outside sources to investigate several issues in the county and that Shoch, as a commissioner, should do what he thinks is best for the county.

The commissioners also agreed to upgrade surveillance cameras in the Northumberland County Prison and to cap the spending at $18,000.


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