Franklin Regional appointment raises procedural questions

| Tuesday, June 18, 2013, 7:54 p.m.

Franklin Regional officials met in private Monday to determine which of six applicants would be nominated to replace a resigning school board member.

Board President Herb Yingling announced that the board met in an executive session on Monday to “go over” the candidates for the board position vacated by the resignation of Joe Seymour.

All meetings involving the appointment or selection of a candidate to fill a vacancy in any elected position must be held in public, according to a 2006 revision of the Pennsylvania Sunshine Act.

Board solicitor Jack Cambest justified the closed-door session by citing the 1994 case of Cumberland Publishers vs. the Carlisle Area Board of School Directors.

That case found that the board was permitted to discuss appointing a school board member in private if the vote was taken in public.

However, that ruling was superseded by changes to the Sunshine Act 1996, said Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel for the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, a nonprofit, trade group in Harrisburg for media organizations.

“It's no longer good law,” Melewsky said. “The Sunshine Act was amended to prohibit the result that was reached in this case.”

Yingling said that the board acted on the advice of its solicitor when discussing the six candidates before placing Chuck Hergenroeder on the agenda for a vote. There was no public discussion on the matter.

Mary Bach, one of the candidates and a former school board member, was in attendance at the meeting and said she was disappointed that the board did not discuss the appointment in public. While she said she is pleased with Hergendroeder's appointment and thinks he will serve the community well, she said she wanted “thoughtful consideration” of the applicants.

“I'm very disappointed in the process and feel they violated the Sunshine law,” Bach said. “The choice had already been made. I thought the process was flawed.”

Cambest would not comment other than to cite “Cumberland vs. Carlisle.”

Cambest has been on retainer in the district as solicitor for several years. The board voted Monday to reappoint his firm — Cambest, Dodaro and Matta — as solicitor at the rate of $85 per hour.

Daveen Rae Kurutz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8627.

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