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Pending or Not Pending?

By Staff | Dec 12, 2008

From Staff Reports

A lawsuit is pending against Muncy Borough Council, borough Solicitor Wilfred K. Knecht last Tuesday. Council has been criticized for allegedly conducting business behind closed doors.

According to the Williamsport Sun-Gazette, resident Tom Gardner, who also is the municipal authority chairman, filed a legal suit against council for alleged Sunshine Law violations at the office of county District Attorney Eric R. Linhardt, Knecht said.

Council was criticized from within at a June 19 work session when then-councilman Mike Fornwalt said he was appalled he wasn’t contacted by the borough prior to the June 3 meeting at which the decision was made to terminate borough secretary-treasurer Elaine McAleer.

When contacted in June by the Sun-Gazette, legal counsel for the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association said council voted in executive session when it fired McAleer. Votes must be conducted publicly.

However, the Sun-Gazette submitted a clarification involving the story two days after the meeting. when Gardner contacted the Sun-Gazette to clarify that he “and others” have been in contact with the District Attorney’s Office about alleged violations of the state’s open meeting law, known as the Sunshine Law, but have not filed a lawsuit.

No legal papers have been signed in connection with those talks, and no suit has been filed to date, Gardner said. He declined further comment.

Officials at the District Attorney’s Office declined comment but issued a statement.

“No charges have been filed, and if any charges are filed, it is a matter of public record … The office does not discuss any private criminal complaints that are brought to it.”

The comments followed an exchange during Tuesday’s borough council meeting between Councilwoman Karen Richards and Wilfred K. Knecht, borough solicitor.

Richards confirmed by phone Wednesday that her question related to charges she had been told months ago had been filed with the District Attorney’s Office.

“I asked him (Knecht) what the status of the charges are that I had been told had been filed,” Richards said.

“My answer was that I don’t have any additional information,” Knecht told the Sun-Gazette. “We don’t comment on ongoing litigation.”

Richards also told the Sun-Gazette she had “no direct knowledge of any charges that had been filed.”

Gardner also declined further comment until after speaking with Howard Langdon, the municipal authority’s solicitor.

“I don’t want to make any other comments at this point,” he said. “There is a lot I can say about it but don’t want to say until I talk to my solicitor.

In a separate matter, resident Charles Leonard, whose status as a municipal authority member is under question, informed council the authority will closely review a 15-percent increase in the proposed sewer budget.

The borough budgets, first read Nov. 20, still are expected to be adopted Dec. 23, according to Councilwoman Linda Stein, finance committee chairwoman.

Four balanced budgets are included, but only the $801,090 balanced sewer budget was publicly questioned by Leonard.

“The sewer budget is still under consideration,” Stein said. “We won’t really know if it’s approved under its present condition until the authority meets next week.

The authority wants to closely review the budget at its 7 p.m. Monday meeting at the 14 N. Washington St. borough hall, according to Leonard.

“We want to review it to make sure we’re comfortable with the line items,” he said.

Leonard is aware costs for Chesapeake Bay cleanup are necessary, but he wants to know where it’s accounted for in the budget.

The organization of the municipal authority authority is being questioned by council, as Knecht said there’s seven members seated, but perhaps only five legally are permitted to serve.

Leonard said the authority approved him as a member last month. Council said it never granted final approval for Leonard to replace Mike Fornwalt, who resigned from council and the authority Oct. 23.

Seven authority members are listed on the borough Web site, but there could be two too many.

Legal documents studied allow only five authority members, according to Knecht.

“There’s been no resolution by the authority, that we know of,” he said. “And on top of that, council needs to approve it.”