A special meeting is planned in the wake of a resolution limiting communication between East Berlin Borough Council members and the borough’s secretary/treasurer and lawyer.
A divided council passed the resolution June 5, leading to a request from three of the seven council members for a special public meeting.
That meeting is set for July 1 at 4:30 p.m. at the borough hall, 128 Water St., according to an email council President Robbie Teal sent Tuesday to council members, borough attorney Matthew Battersby, Mayor Keith Hoffman, and the secretary/treasurer’s email account.
“After we open the public portion of the meeting, we will go directly into executive session for legal advice,” the email reads.
Emails to the same addressees from Anne Geiger indicate she and her fellow council members Jason Wood and David Meixner formally requested a public meeting.
“If the president wants to convene an executive session before or after this special public meeting to get legal counsel about this issue, that is her prerogative. To be clear, we are not requesting legal counsel at this special public meeting,” Geiger wrote.
“We also do not believe that a closed executive session is a substitute for the special public meeting that we are requesting per Pennsylvania Borough Code,” she wrote.
The three council members also requested the meeting be at 7 p.m.
“The 4:30 time may be OK for a closed executive session, but it is highly undesirable for an open public meeting since it would obviously limit the public’s ability to attend,” Geiger wrote.
“As president, I select the time and agenda for the meeting, not you,” Teal countered in Tuesday’s email.
“After whatever it is that you wish to discuss, and legal explanation or advice from the solicitor, in the executive session, we will then go back into the public portion of the meeting. If there is any that needs to be brought to a vote, it will be done at this time,” Teal wrote.
The privacy afforded by attorney-client privilege applies only to executive sessions, while “any action following my advice will be conducted in public,” Battersby wrote in an email.
On the night the resolution passed, Teal said the measure simply created a clear “chain of command,” while Geiger called it “gatekeeping.”
Voting in favor of the resolution were Teal, Vice President James LeVan, Charles Krall, and Donald Dixon.
Voting against it were Geiger and Wood. Meixner was absent. The mayor legally cannot vote except to break a tie.
The resolution reads:
“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. 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. 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.”
The resolution indicates its purpose is “to streamline reporting and management of the borough.”
It reads, “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 day after the resolution’s passage, Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association Media Law Counsel Melissa Melewsky wrote that it “is likely constitutionally infirm.”
“A chain of command is one thing, prohibition on an elected official’s right to speak about matters of public concern is quite another. Government cannot generally prohibit an elected official’s right to speak on matters of public concern,” Melewsky wrote.
Teal wrote in Tuesday’s email, “Any Council member, during regular business hours, may go into the office and look at any file, except for personnel file, that they choose. No one is stopping you. However, you will not disrupt borough services.”
The email accuses Geiger of driving away former Secretary/Treasurer Darlene McArthur. Teal said following the June 5 meeting that the council had met in executive session after learning of McArthur’s departure from her position May 30.
“This action is necessary to prevent the loss on anyone else that is hired for that position,” Teal says of the resolution in the email.
In an email to the Gettysburg Times, Geiger wrote that Teal’s allegation about the secretary/treasurer position is “untrue” and “There is plenty of evidence to disprove her accusations.”
Geiger provided the newspaper with the email exchange on the topic of the special meeting.
Efforts to contact Teal Thursday were unsuccessful.