Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Hey There, Mr. Sunshine

Two of the Montgomery County commissioners, Jim Matthews and Joe Hoeffel went out for breakfast on at least a few occasions with county solicitor Barry Miller and Deputy Chief Operating Officer Jim Maza. The third commissioner, Bruce Castor, did not attend and was not invited to do so. The District Attorney is investigating possible violations of the Sunshine Law relating to these meetings. (Phucas. 12/08/2010)

It’s not the first time the county commissioners have been accused of violating the Sunshine Act. Here are examples of previous controversies

In 2000, all three commissioners attend briefings that are closed to the public. The Pennsylvania Newspaper Association said the meetings should be open because, according to the PNA staff attorney, they “involve a majority of commissioners deliberating future action.” PNA says the Sunshine Law is being violated. Commissioners Michael Marino and Ruth Damsker found nothing wrong with it. (Gimpel 1/14/2000)

Later in 2000 Commissioners Jim Matthews and Ruth Damsker met with opponents of a proposed electric plan but didn’t tell power company. Commissioner Mike Marino was not involved. The power company said this violated Sunshine Law. (Ferry 10/23/2000)

In 2004 Commissioners Jim Matthews and Tom Ellis meet with county administrators including county solicitor Barry Miller and chief operating officer Robert Graf. Commissioner Ruth Damsker said this violated the Sunshine Law. “Matthews said at the commissioners meeting Thursday that he ‘chose not to have her there’ because Damsker was not part of the group’s ‘vision’ for the county” (Milewski 8/13/2004)

Later in 2004 Commissioner Ruth Damsker receives short notice of retirement board meeting; she will be on vacation. “If Mr. Matthews and Mr. Ellis want to sit down in their office or after work for a chat and discuss what they want to accomplish – fine,” Damsker read from a prepared statement. “However, when these two commissioners use county personnel and taxpayers’ money to hold a meeting that is private and has no minority party representation, then they have crossed the line. County employees are not employees of the Republican Party. They work for the taxpayers.” (Milewskwi 8/27/2004)

There were no official charges or investigations in these cases. The District Attorney at the time was Bruce Castor. I thought it was fascinating that one of the 2004 incidents involved the same Barry Miller that is involved in the current case.


Gimpel, Diane Marczely “Montco meetings cut, closed,” Morning Call January 14, 2000.

Milewski, Melissa, “Damsker decries meeting,” Intelligencer August 13, 2004

Milewski, Melissa, “Damsker angered by late notice,” Intelligencer August 27, 2004

Perry, Joseph P., “County officials allegedly broke law,” Morning Call October 23, 2000

Phucas, Keith, “Montco D.A. looks at possible Sunshine violations by commissioners” Main Line Times, December 8, 2010


Anonymous said...

Did anyone complain to the DA on those other occasions, one wonders? Were there accompanying pay to play allegations at the time? Were newspapers calling for a criminal investigation concurrent with the revelations?

AboveAvgJane said...

I do not know the answers to those questions. I was researching the Sunshine Law and didn't go back to investigate the other surrounding news. So if Sunshine Law wasn't mentioned I wouldn't have found the information. However, I was not aware that the DA's office limited investigations to complaints or articles in the newspaper.

There has been so much said and written about the current situation and I knew I had heard people talk about other possible violations but don't remember seeing much about them in the media. So I went back to see if there had been previous discussions of possible violations and what they were. When the previous event with some of the same people showed up it seemed worthy of a blog post.