To the editor: Go along to get along. The editors of the News-Item gave me this advice in their editorial in Saturday’s edition. I will not do it. The people of our county did not elect me to be a yes-woman, smilingly approving everything the majority does for the appearance of false harmony.
My job for the taxpayers is to ensure that the majority commissioners conduct the business of our county openly and accountably. Surely, that is not only in the interest of our citizens, but this newspaper as well. I am routinely prevented from doing this simple job. Meetings frequently take place in private. Important events like the original hearing on the road petition are not placed on the calendar of weekly events given to all commissioners. Decisions are made on contracts and people begin providing services to the county long before any public vote is held.
The recent, private decision to instruct the solicitor to file a petition to declare Northumberland County Drive a public road is the last straw. It is regrettable that a private company should be caught up in the situation, but their needs are outweighed by the public’s interest in open government.
Had Commissioners Shoch and Schiccatano done a few simple things, there would be no delay. There was a public meeting a mere three days before the petition was filed. Shoch and Schiccatano could have put the road issue on that agenda for a public vote. They could have called a special public meeting to deal with the issue. They could have called for an executive session and properly announced it later. They could have at least given me the courtesy of advance notice, a copy of the petition or even put the hearing on the public calendar. They did none of these things. The editors of this paper should be questioning why they were not.
I give the majority notice that, going forward, I will be the wrench in the works of every backroom deal. Every time I discover secret action, I will take every step possible, up to and including lawsuits, to drag it into the light. Shoch and Schiccatano can easily avoid this by sticking to a few simple rules that all municipal officials in Pennsylvania have no trouble following: notice to all elected officials, public meetings and minutes.
In all cases, as with the road declaration, I am prepared to be reasonable. On Oct. 2, the majority brought the issue to public meeting for open discussion, public input and a vote. Their votes won, mine lost. That’s fair democracy. My legal objections to the road petition have served their purpose and I will withdraw them. It is my opinion that the petition remains legally insufficient, but that challenge is for others to take up.
At the same meeting, I offered Shoch and Schiccatano a simple solution to the Sunshine Act lawsuit that I filed against them personally. All they have to do is agree to a set of rules whereby all commissioners receive equal information about county business and that work sessions and staff meetings be properly minuted. These are small, but important things. They create a record for the public of the actions of elected officials. They cost the county little or nothing. In response, the majority commissioners have hired a lawyer (the same one suing Shamokin Area School District for Northwestern Academy) at a rate of $450 an hour for no purpose other than to keep information from me, this newspaper and members of the public.
Shoch went a step further. Throughout this dispute, as with all disputes before, I have stuck to issues, facts and law. I make no personal attacks. True to form, Shoch responds with personal insults, reading aloud an alleged email from a nameless source. Schiccatano does not get a pass in this. This time, as is the case every time, he sits silently, makes no objection and allows the attacks to go on.
This newspaper has happily reprinted, twice, the personal attacks despite the fact that no one has had the courage to publicly own them. This newspaper then suggests that I need to “find a way to get along.” Perhaps the fact that my allegations about secret meetings are met with secret insults is an irony entirely lost on the editors.
Northumberland County Commissioner