A self-proclaimed expert on Pennsylvania’s Sunshine Act has filed 18 criminal complaints against all seven Camp Hill borough council members.
“I’m not surprised that we are still here, I’m disappointed that we’re still here,” said Chris Courogen, a former municipal government reporter and ardent supporter of the act, which governs public access to certain government proceedings.
“When you shut the public out, you don’t get the benefit of their input,” Courogen said Wednesday before a regularly-scheduled borough meeting.
In the complaints, Courogen alleges committee meetings haven’t been open to the public, weren’t properly advertised, and official deliberations took place without the public present – all things the Sunshine Act either requires or restricts.
Courogen says it’s been normal practice for committees (small groups of three council members focused on public safety, public works, etc.) to privately deliberate or discuss issues behind closed doors and then act on it publicly; all the while, the public is left out.
“Then, [board members] come to the council meeting and there is very little discussion because it’s already been discussed ahead of time, so they don’t get any input from the public,” he said.
Courogen said he discovered the issue in the borough manager’s own monthly reports, which detail what the committees discuss.
“‘Discussed with the chief a proposal for hiring additional officers and the purchase of police cruisers’…that is deliberating,” said Courogen, reading from the manager’s report. “Which is dumber – doing that, or them publicly putting it in your minutes and telling everyone you did it?”
At Wednesday’s meeting, the council voted to open the committee meetings to the public, telling ABC27 before that vote that they previously believed Sunshine Law only applied to full council meetings, not committees.
“Council believes that committee meetings did not require and were not subject to Sunshine Law. If we had believed that they were, we wouldn’t have been acting as we are,” said board member Carl Schultz.
The complaints were filed with the Cumberland County District Attorney’s Office, which will investigate the claims.
The penalty for a first Sunshine Act offense is about $100 and increases with each violation.
At a council meeting last month, Courogen gave board members a 30-day notice that he would file criminal complaints unless they agreed to open committee meetings. When they did not meet that deadline on Tuesday, Courogen followed through with his plan.
This is a story ABC27 News first reported on more than a year ago, when the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records said it is likely Camp Hill Borough has been violating the Sunshine Act all along.