Beaver County’s Law Department has advised the Board of Commissioners against meeting privately with District Attorney David Lozier or other county row officials to discuss their budgets for 2018. The guidance by the county’s attorneys comes after the Beaver Countian informed officials last week that it was prepared to file private criminal complaints against officials who participate in private budget meetings that in any manner violate provisions of the Pennsylvania Sunshine Act.
During last Wednesday’s public work session, District Attorney David Lozier made a “formal request” of the Board to be allowed to meet with them privately to discuss his budget request for next year, which includes a significant increase in spending and additional personnel for his office. Commissioners Dan Camp and Tony Amadio both told Lozier they were “ok with that,” with Commissioner Egley stating she was opposed to any meetings by the Board not held in public.
District Attorney Lozier dubbed the budget meeting “informational” and exempt from public meeting provisions of the Sunshine Act, but said he wanted to “talk about my budget needs and why it changed from last year, and get your impression and get [Financial Administrator Ricardo Luckow’s] recommendations.” Lozier told the Board there was no requirement for the meeting to be held in public as no decisions would be made at that time, “[P]ublic meetings are useless when it comes to detailed briefings with department heads. Having 50 people in a room doesn’t help; when decisions are made absolutely.”
The Beaver Countian reminded the Board that provisions of the Pennsylvania Sunshine Act require not only official actions be made during a public meeting, but also that deliberations for the purposes of making a future decision be public. The Board of Commissioners tabled a decision on how the meetings would be conducted, with Chief Solicitor Garen Fedeles telling them he would research the matter in light of the Beaver Countian’s objection.
Solicitor Fedeles met with each of the Commissioners individually yesterday afternoon, recommending they not conduct private meetings as a Board with other officials to discuss their budgets. Fedeles instead suggested Commissioners direct Chief Financial Administrator Ricardo Luckow meet individually with the row officials and department heads to review their budget proposals, and then schedule public meetings with the Board as necessary to discuss requests for increases that are not contractually mandated or contain significant overages compared to last year. Fedeles recommended those meetings occur during previously scheduled work sessions so the county would not incur an added expense of advertising new meetings dates — a suggestion that had been made last week by Democratic Register of Wills Tracey Antoline-Patton.
The advice by Chief Solicitor Garen Fedeles is in line with the guidance given to the Board last year by then-Chief Solicitor Andrea Cantelmi when the Beaver Countian raised objections to private budget talks that had been scheduled with Sheriff Tony Guy.
The Board of Commissioners will meet at 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday in the public meeting room of the courthouse to deliberate on how the county’s budget process will proceed. Commissioners Dan Camp and Sandie Egley each told the Beaver Countian yesterday they are agreeable to the recommendation made by Chief Solicitor Fedeles.