Supervisor questions private meeting with Range officials

August 15, 2013
The entrance to the Worstell impoundment in Cecil Township. - Mike Jones / Observer-Reporter Order a Print

Three Cecil Township supervisors met privately with Range Resources officials last week, reversing a June decision to cancel the meeting after the municipality’s insurance carrier raised concerns about it.

Supervisor Andy Schrader, who was not invited to the Aug. 6 meeting and did not attend, called on Washington County District Attorney Gene Vittone to investigate whether the quorum of three supervisors violated the state’s Sunshine Law.

Plans to meet with Range were not discussed the night before during the supervisors’ regular voting meeting.

Schrader said he did not know about the meeting until he received an email Wednesday from Jim Cannon, manager of government relations at Range Resources. Cannon acknowledged that a meeting took place in Range’s offices in Southpointe, and supervisors Tom Casciola, Elizabeth Cowden and Frank Ludwin attended. Cannon said in the email that several issues were discussed, including the Worstell impoundment on Swihart Road, and that “there were several ideas we all considered and agreed might address the concerns that have been articulated by nearby residents, including speed on the road and traffic volume.”

Schrader said he was unsure if he and Supervisor Mike Debbis, who also did not attend the meeting, were intentionally excluded. He also questioned the wording of Cannon’s email, which led him to believe that “agreeing” on anything would be a violation of the Sunshine Act.

“There’s a fine line between agreeing to something and having a course of action,” Schrader said.

The decision to meet privately with Range contradicts a 4-1 vote on June 4 to cancel the meeting after the township insurance carrier raised concerns about it since the two sides are locked in litigation. The township supervisors originally voted 3-2 on May 7 to schedule a private meeting with Range.

The supervisors’ private meeting came just a few days before the entire board met Aug. 9 with the state Department of Environmental Protection in a closed conference to discuss the Worstell impoundment.

Cecil Township solicitor John Smith said he was unaware of the meeting until after Cannon’s email was received. Township Manager Don Gennuso did not attend the meeting and declined to comment.

Schrader has contacted the district attorney asking him to look into the matter. Vittone could not be reached for comment on the inquiry. However, a private meeting with a quorum of supervisors does raise legal questions, according to Melissa Melewsky, of the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association.

“Any time you hear about a public agency or a quorum of elected officials meeting privately to discuss agency business, it raises compliance issues,” Melewsky said. “There are a number of limited exceptions that allow private disucsisons. None seems applicable here.”

None of the supervisors in attendance, nor Range Resources officials, returned multiple phone calls seeking comment regarding the meeting.

Emily Petsko joined the Observer-Reporter as a staff writer in June 2013. She graduated from Point Park University with a dual bachelor's degree in journalism and global cultural studies.

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Mike Jones has been a news reporter since 2005, covering crime, state and municipal government, education and energy. In addition to working at the Observer-Reporter, he also has spent time at the Charleston (W.Va.) Daily Mail and He holds a journalism degree from West Virginia University.

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