A divided East Berlin Borough Council passed a resolution aimed at limiting communication between council members and the borough’s secretary/treasurer and lawyer.
Most communication would have to be funneled through the council president or vice president, or the mayor, according to the resolution.
Voting in favor of the resolution Wednesday were President Robbie Teal, Vice President James LeVan, Charles Krall, and Donald Dixon.
Voting against it were Anne Geiger and Jason Wood. David Meixner was absent. Mayor Keith Hoffman legally cannot vote except to break a tie.
“The Secretary/Treasurer shall not communicate or contact the other borough council members other than at the regularly scheduled council meetings or special meetings regarding personnel matters or day-to-day operations,” the resolution reads.
“Council members may request information from the Borough Secretary/Treasurer so long as these requests and matters are first discussed at a Borough Council meeting,” according to the resolution.
“All communication with the Borough Solicitor, other than at a scheduled meeting, will be limited to only the Borough Council President, Vice President, and/or Mayor,” it reads. The solicitor is the council’s attorney.
The resolution contains an exception to the communication rules during emergency situations, but indicates “all complaints or other directives between the Borough Council and the Secretary/Treasurer must first be submitted to the Borough Council President.”
The resolution is “problematic,” said Geiger, who called it “gate-keeping.”
“We should never feel we can’t have the information we need,” and the goal should be to “expand” rather than “limit” the flow of information, Geiger said.
The month between regular meetings “is a long time” to wait for information, Geiger said.
Council members can obtain whatever information they need through the president and vice president, “if they think it’s valid,” Teal said.
There is “potential of this being misused,” said Geiger, who noted the resolution does not specify “what the parameters would be for denying information.”
Wood asked how the council could limit itself from gathering information that “everybody else in town” has a right to request.
The intention is to create a clear “chain of command,” Teal said.
“This will reduce conflict,” LeVan said.
The resolution says its intention is “to streamline reporting and management of the borough.”
It says “the Secretary/Treasurer shall report directly to the President of Borough Council,” or to the vice president in the absence of the president, or to the mayor.
The council’s attorney, Matthew Battersby, said he had drafted the resolution as best he could, and that the council is free to change it in the future.
After the meeting, Teal declined to provide a copy of the resolution, saying it had not yet been signed. Geiger made the text available to the Gettysburg Times.
Also after the meeting, Teal said the council learned May 30 that Secretary/Treasurer Darlene McArthur was leaving her position. The council conducted an executive session that day to discuss personnel matters, Teal said.
The decision to have Battersby draft the resolution occurred May 30, but the decision was not prompted by McArthur’s departure, Teal said. Pennsylvania’s Sunshine Act specifies that official action on matters discussed in executive sessions “shall be taken at an open meeting.”
Instead, she said, council members acted in order to “not have seven people asking the same question,” because “sometimes too many people are asking the same question over and over again.”
Regarding issues addressed in the resolution, Teal said council members have “been discussing it among ourselves” for “quite a while” during executive sessions.
The Sunshine Act permits non-public executive sessions for discussion of employment terms, evaluation, promotion, or discipline in regard to a specific employee.
Closed meetings are also allowed for collective bargaining strategy, real estate transactions, litigation strategy, investigations, and security matters.
After Wednesday’s meeting, LeVan said the resolution was needed to “clarify communication.”
On the other hand, Geiger said after the meeting she will “challenge” the resolution “if I’m prevented from getting information I need to fulfill my responsibilities as a council member.”
During the meeting, Geiger raised the issue of emails not being forwarded to council members.
She said Thursday she plans to submit requests under the state Right-to-Know Law to find out what emails the borough received that may not have been passed along.
Also during the meeting, members decided to advertise for a new secretary/treasurer and to seek an interim replacement through a temporary employment agency.