CECIL – Cecil Township supervisors want to meet privately with Range Resources officials so the two sides can discuss their relationship.
The supervisors voted 3-2 Monday night to schedule a meeting with the Marcellus Shale natural gas driller at its Southpointe headquarters in the near future.
The meeting would be closed to the public and would not include lawyers from either side, which some of the supervisors hoped would allow them to speak candidly about their relationship and the future of drilling in Cecil Township.
“We all kind of acknowledged that the first meeting we had was a waste of time,” Supervisor Chairman Tom Casciola said. “We hope this won’t be.”
Range Resources is locked in a legal battle with the township after filing a right-to-know request for records about executive session meetings and correspondence between municipal officials regarding natural gas drilling. Range spokesman Matt Pitzarella said company officials have yet to hear about a potential meeting with Cecil supervisors, but they welcome the dialogue.
“We welcome the opportunity with Cecil to continue having a positive working dialogue on how to responsibly develop natural gas in their community, in a manner that minimizes the inconveniences and maximizes the benefits of their residents, many of which are leaseholders and employees,” Pitzarella wrote in an email statement. “This sort of relationship works incredibly well in hundreds of other townships where we operate, and Cecil should be no different.”
But Supervisor Andy Schrader said he feels uncomfortable meeting behind closed doors away from the public. He joined Supervisor Michael Debbis in casting votes against the motion to schedule a private meeting.
“Not only can (Range) know what I say, but everyone in the public can know what I say,” Schrader said.
The legality of the full board meeting privately with the natural gas driller is questionable under the Sunshine Law, although Supervisor Elizabeth Cowden pointed to a Commonwealth Court decision last year that a private meeting was permissible for this purpose. That decision, regarding Smith vs. Richmond Township, is being appealed to the state Supreme Court and oral arguments are expected later this summer.
“I think it’s time to meet with Range Resources and not litigate,” Cowden said. “It’s not helping us. It’s not helping anybody.”
Melissa Melewsky at the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association, though, blasted the decision to meet privately, saying there was no “legitimate reason” it should not be open to the public. She said the state Supreme Court taking up the case shows the importance of open government.
“I think this raises Sunshine Law compliance issues and public interest issues,” Melewsky said. “Any time a government cuts the public out of a discussion, it automatically creates public interest questions. Just because it can be private, doesn’t mean it should be.”
It’s not known if Schrader or Debbis would attend the meeting due to their objections, or which Range Resources officials would be included in the discussion. A date for the meeting has not yet been scheduled.