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Settlement concludes Blawnox open meetings battle

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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A two-year dispute over how Blawnox conducts its meetings has ended with U.S. District Judge David Cercone approving a settlement between two residents and the borough.

Melina Brajovic, 46, said on Tuesday the settlement upholds citizens' rights to petition the government and hold officials accountable by recording their meetings.

"It's not just (for) us," she said. "It's all the people in the community."

Brajovic and Peggy Albright, 61, sued the borough because the council banned public comment during its agenda meetings, which are separate from the council's regular meetings, where the public was allowed to comment. They also sued over restrictions the council placed on Brajovic's recording video and audio of the meetings.

Jack Cambest, borough solicitor, said the borough tried all along to reach a reasonable compromise.

"I think that both parties agreed that the borough could set rules and regulations. It was only a question of what's reasonable," he said.

Sara Rose, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, said borough council rejected several attempts to resolve the dispute before Brajovic and Albright filed the lawsuit.

While the council dropped regulations that sought to prevent Brajovic from editing or adding commentary to its recordings, it still wanted her or anyone else to register and stand in a designated area if she tried to record the meeting. The council, in the settlement, dropped those requirements.

"We gave them ample opportunity and notice before filing this lawsuit," Rose said.

Albright was arrested and charged for trying to speak during a meeting. Common Pleas Judge Gerard Bigley threw out the case, saying the borough's action violated the state's open meetings law. The Superior Court upheld his decision, and the Supreme Court refused to hear the district attorney's appeal.

Rose and Cambest said the case doesn't set a legal precedent because it was settled. The borough agreed to pay $75,000 to settle the lawsuit. That includes $33,900 paid to Albright and $7,000 paid to Brajovic, plus their attorney fees. They and the borough will split the $3,600 mediation costs in the case.

Brajovic, a Republican, and three Democrats will compete for three council seats in the November general election.

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