| Neighborhoods

Larger text Larger text Smaller text Smaller text | Order Photo Reprints

Discussion of Murrysville drilling ordinance closed to public

Email Newsletters

Click here to sign up for one of our email newsletters.

'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

By Daveen Rae Kurutz
Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Task force meetings to discuss revamping the municipal drilling ordinance won't be made public, Murrysville officials said.

The Marcellus shale task force was reconvened earlier this year after council decided to re-evaluate the municipal drilling ordinance after the state Supreme Court overruled portions of Act 13, the state drilling regulations.

Those meetings haven't been opened to the public.

“It's a volatile issue,” chief administrator Jim Morrison said. “We're very appreciative of our volunteers, and we have an obligation to let them do their work.”

That doesn't exempt the committee from following the state Sunshine Act, said Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel for the Pennsylvania Newsmedia Association, a nonprofit trade group in Harrisburg.

The act requires all committee meetings to be open to the public, Melewsky said.

“They are a body created to render advice on a matter of agency business,” Melewsky said. “There are no general exceptions that a committee gets to have a private meeting. They are stepping into the shoes and role of council.”

Morrison disagrees.

“There's no decision-making happening. They are just making a recommendation,” Morrison said.

Municipal Solicitor George Kotjarapoglus said he thinks the court is on Murrysville's side.

“If the product being delivered is something that is ripe for ‘immediate action' by the governing body, then the court may well view matter as agency providing ‘advice for action,' in which case Sunshine will likely be applied,” Kotjarapoglus wrote in an email.

“At the other end of the continuum on these ‘advise for action' cases, you have the Murrysville Task Force. Its review and report back to Council will NOT be a product that … will be received an acted upon without benefit of deliberations and a vote in an open meeting. ... there will be ample deliberations in our open meeting process no matter what the Task Force reports back.”

A similar issue arose in 2010, when the task force originally was formed. Those meetings, along with meetings of the municipal comprehensive-plan committee, were open to the public.

Councilman Dave Perry serves on the committee and agreed the meetings should be public.

“I think deliberations associated with ordinances should be a public discussion,” Perry said.

Resident Alyson Holt questioned why the meetings are closed during last week's council meeting after a private conversation with Morrison.

“(Morrison) emailed me back that the task force meetings were not open to the public and that public updates on the progress of the committee would be made at council meetings,” Holt said. “I am disappointed by this answer.”

Melewsky said it's important for residents to be able to attend committee meetings to learn about topics, especially controversial ones.

“The committee is doing all of the legwork. That's where the meat gets discussed,” she said. “If you cut off public access to committee meetings, there's no real account of why borough council is making the decision.”

Daveen Rae Kurutz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-871-2365, or

Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.



Show commenting policy

Most-Read Murrysville

  1. Murrysville man won’t be charged for slitting pit bull’s throat
  2. Franklin Regional Soccer Boosters’ 5K set for Aug. 22
  3. PTOs, officials welcome waiver of fees for volunteers
  4. Murrysville tattoo parlor to host St. Jude fundraiser
  5. Back to drawing board for Export park-and-ride plans