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Right to Know battle



WILBURTON NO. 1 — A future Conyngham Township supervisor is seeking more than $600,000 in a federal lawsuit on four counts surrounding what he believes was a concerted effort by township supervisors to pressure him to stop looking into their suspicious financial activities.

Supervisor-elect John McGee said he filed Right to Know requests seeking financial records and time cards in the township after he became suspicious of overbilling and abuses by outgoing Supervisor Linda Tarlecki, who is also the township secretary and on the township’s sewer authority. He said he also made comments to the media about his suspicions, which led to harassment by Tarlecki and the two other supervisors.

When contacted by Tarlecki that the documents he sought were ready for pick up, he arrived at the township office to find she wanted to serve him with a Right to Know request, McGee said.

The Right to Know request issued by Tarlecki asked for McGee’s personal income tax returns, business income tax returns, personal income information and other personal information, he said.

The Pennsylvania Right to Know Law requires government agencies to provide public access to certain types of information. The website for the Office of Open Records, which oversees the Right to Know Law, specifically lists “personal financial information” as a type of information that is not available under the law.

McGee said Tarlecki told him he had to comply with her Right to Know request. He attended a supervisor’s meeting and questioned the request and Tarlecki and co-supervisors Todd Croker and Joseph Shriner did not tell him he did not have to respond to the request because he is a private citizen.

McGee said in the lawsuit he believes the Right to Know request was an attempt to harm him in response to his request for financial records that are available by law.

Additionally, McGee accuses Tarlecki, Croker and Shriner attempting to “smear his reputation” by contacting tenants of rental units he owns and coercing them to write a complaint letter, which was then read aloud at a township meeting.

The trio also contacted Children and Youth in a county where McGee owns a rental unit and told them the unit contains mold, McGee said. Children and Youth investigated and discovered no hazard, he said.

McGee said after asking for the township’s financial records, he was notified by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) that he was being audited. He believes Tarlecki or another supervisor contacted them and gave them false information to instigate the audit, he said.

“The defendants, including Linda Tarlecki, did as such in an attempt to keep (me) from finding out about the financial irregularities at the township,” McGee said.

McGee accuses Tarlecki, Croker, Shriner individually and in their supervisor capacity as well as Conyngham Township and the board of supervisors of violating his First Amendment rights, violating his Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights, intentional infliction of emotional distress and libel and slander. He has asked for $150,000 on each count plus punitive damages.

Attorney Harry T. Coleman, representing the township, asked a judge to dismiss the case, citing procedural issues. He did not address the legitimacy of McGee’s claims against Tarlecki and the other supervisors.

McGee is being represented by Attorney Stephen T. Carpenito, of Pottsville.

Tarlecki was ousted from office in the November municipal election after losing the Republican and Democratic nominations to Marty Wolfe. McGee won the seat formerly held by Shriner.

The township board is scheduled to meet at 7 p.m. tonight at the Locustdale Fire Co.