Greensburg Council retroactively OKs firing of planning director
Greensburg Council Monday unanimously ratified its decision last month to fire longtime Planning Director Barbara Ciampini.
Though Mayor Robert Bell and city Solicitor Bernard McArdle declined to comment on the retroactive vote, it was seen as a “cure” for what could be a violation of the state’s Sunshine Act, since an initial vote to terminate Ciampini occurred at an unadvertised meeting.
Pennsylvania’s Sunshine Act requires government agencies to “deliberate and take official action on agency business” at advertised meetings that are open to the public. Unscheduled, impromptu discussions and decisions are not exempt, according to the law.
Bell has said city council voted unanimously to terminate Ciampini on Feb. 18, after an informal meeting that occurred when the mayor and all four council members got together after an unrelated recreation board meeting.
Bell announced council’s decision the following day, and the city promptly began advertising for a replacement for Ciampini. Last week, however, city officials placed a vote on the planning director’s termination on the agenda for Monday’s meeting.
Ciampini, who was paid $73,500 a year, had been a fixture in city government for 35 years. Bell and members of council have declined to say what triggered her seemingly abrupt termination.
Monday’s vote cited Feb. 19 as the effective date of Ciampini’s firing.
An attempt to reach Ciampini Monday for comment was unsuccessful. She previously told the Tribune-Review she had no comment.
Until a new planning director is hired, Bell said he and city administrator Kelsye Milliron are overseeing matters that come before the planning department, with Bell focusing on code issues.
Lou Sabbers, a city resident and local contractor, expressed support for council, indicating proposed development projects in Greensburg that had been planned for some time are now moving forward.
“Something’s different,” he said. “To go in new ways, you have to cut old ties.”
Melissa Melewsky, a media lawyer for the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, said government bodies are permitted to discuss personnel matters behind closed doors.
“But, the actual firing or hiring has to take place at a public meeting. They can only take official action at a public meeting. I think what they’re trying to do here is to effect a cure. The court has said, if you realize you did something the wrong way, you can cure it by doing it the right way,” Melewsky said.
She said, if that’s the case, “it should be accompanied by an admission of wrongdoing and a pledge to do better in the future. That usually doesn’t happen, but it should,” she said.
Greensburg’s move to ratify the earlier vote takes place as news organizations across the country mark the beginning of Sunshine Week, which includes a national campaign that emphasizes the importance of open government and the dangers of government secrecy.
Deb Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Deb at 412-320-7996, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .