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Fayette meeting called off; commissioners unsure whether it had been advertised properly

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Friday, May 16, 2014, 12:01 a.m.
 

As they have done every month for countless years, Vanderbilt residents Ralph and Geraldine Mazza arrived early on Thursday for a Fayette County commissioners meeting.

But minutes before the scheduled 10 a.m. start, Commissioner Vincent Zapotosky advised them and a handful of others to leave because questions had arisen over whether the meeting had been advertised, a legal requirement to alert residents about when elected officials will be making decisions affecting their lives.

“Zapotosky was in and out of the room, on the phone,” Geraldine Mazza said. “Right before 10, he made the announcement the meeting was canceled. He said there was a gray area, that they passed a resolution in January, but it was not advertised.”

Questions have arisen about whether the public was properly informed about the commissioners' other meetings held this year.

Mazza said she knew the county could not move the meeting from its regularly scheduled day of May 20 without running a legal ad. She never saw an ad, she said, but found out the meeting had been moved to Thursday by calling the courthouse in Uniontown in advance.

“I said, ‘You guys pass resolutions at every meeting, and you don't remember them from month to month?' ” Mazza said. “How could you possibly expect anybody who was at the January meeting to remember that you passed that resolution?”

Commissioners have met at 10 a.m. on the third Tuesday of the month for voting meetings since 2012. They passed a resolution in January changing the May 20 meeting to May 15 because of the primary election and the Nov. 11 meeting to Nov. 12 because of Veterans Day.

According to all three commissioners, the county then failed to place a legal ad announcing the new dates. Al Ambrosini, commission chairman, said the decision was made “out of an abundance of caution” on Tuesday morning to cancel the meeting.

“We just made a decision this morning to postpone the meeting until next week,” Ambrosini said. “Solicitor (John) Cupp was concerned we may have not sufficiently advertised for the change in the meeting, so he just recommended to us that it would probably be easier to just reschedule it and make sure we advertise it sufficiently, instead of just having a possible question there.”

The meeting will be held at 10:30 a.m. on May 22 in Courtroom 1 at the courthouse on East Main Street, Ambrosini said. He said it will be properly advertised.

Ambrosini said questions have arisen about whether the county advertised any of this year's commissioners' meetings.

“We're having John (Cupp) look into that,” Ambrosini said. “We didn't change any of the meeting dates, except for the two, from when this administration came into office in 2012, but I'm not sure they were advertised beyond that, for 2013 and 2014.”

Melissa Melewsky, an attorney for the Pennsylvania News Media Association, said the state Sunshine Act requires government agencies to advertise their meeting dates in a newspaper of general circulation at the beginning of the year.

Meetings held outside of the regular schedule must be advertised at least 24 hours in advance, she said.

“Any meetings not properly advertised are subject to legal challenge, and a judge could invalidate any official action taken at a meeting held in violation of the law, although this is very rare and highly unlikely,” Melewsky said.

Liz Zemba is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-601-2166 or lzemba@tribweb.com.

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