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Allegheny County meeting on blood testing raises transparency questions

Theresa Clift
| Tuesday, April 25, 2017, 6:36 p.m.

Allegheny County Council will hold a meeting at 4 p.m. Wednesday to learn about a proposal that would require all children in the county to undergo blood testing for lead — a meeting for which a public notice was not posted to the county website.

All 15 council members were invited to the meeting in an email Friday.

“Please be advised that the Allegheny County Health Department will be making a brief informational presentation on blood lead testing,” reads the email, obtained Tuesday by the Tribune-Review.

The Pennsylvania Sunshine Act requires notices about public meetings of a quorum of elected officials to be posted in a newspaper of general circulation at least 24 hours in advance.

Jared Barker, council's chief clerk and director of legislative services, declined to comment on whether the notice has ever run in the newspaper.

Barker referred all questions to Jack Cambest, council solicitor.

“The meeting is purely informational,” Cambest said in an email. “No proposed regulation has been submitted to council. No regulation has been finalized by the health department. No agency business or deliberation will be undertaken at the meeting. If and when a regulation is submitted the proper (advertisement) will be made.”

The proposal has been introduced to the county's Board of Health, which plans to vote on it May 3. If passed, it would go to county council for final approval.

If the council members only receive information at the meeting and do not deliberate or discuss agency business, the Sunshine Act does not apply, said Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel for the nonprofit Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association in Harrisburg.

That doesn't sound like that's the case here, though, Melewsky said.

“It sounds like there will be an exchange of information between the department of health and these board members,” Melewsky said.

It's in the public interest for the county to put out a notice either way, Melewsky said.

“It's better to advertise these meetings as public and just welcome the public in,” Melewsky said. “That would remove all of these questions from constituents' minds.”

It's unclear whether the meeting Wednesday will be open to the public.

If more than seven council members show up to the meeting, making it a quorum, and they do deliberate, the council would be required to cancel the meeting, because a notice was not published, Melewsky said.

Notices for three other council committee meetings scheduled for Wednesday are posted to the webpage .

The meeting is scheduled for 4 to 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 26, at the Allegheny County Courthouse's Conference Room One.

Theresa Clift is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-5669 or tclift@tribweb.com. Follow her on Twitter @tclift.

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