At Monday's meeting of Warren City Council Mayor Mark Phillips announced that council had met in executive session on three occasions over the past month .
The purposes of the meetings, according to the mayor, were "personnel," "real estate," and to receive legal advice.
According to the Pennsylvania Sunshine Act, that statement and those qualifiers are not sufficient to satisfy the law. The law requires more than a "one word" explanation - some information that would allow the public to decide whether or not the executive session is legal.
First, "real estate" can cover virtually any issue that involves the earth's surface. The law states that the session must be limited to consider the purchase or lease of real property. Is the city contemplating the purchase or lease of real property? And, if the session focused on the ACA building on Liberty Street, does that mean that the city is contemplating the purchase of that building or considering the leasing of a property it doesn't own?
Does "personnel" mean discussions of matters involving employment or performance of officers or employees of the city, provided that any affected individual is given the opportunity to request, in writing, that the meeting be held in public?
Did the legal advice deal with litigation or issues where an identifiable complaint is expected to be filed? Does this mean that City Council has reason to believe it will be the subject of a legal complaint?
The act says that the discussions must be limited to those issues.
You see, the Pennsylvania Sunshine Act is much more specific in its requirements than many public officials would like you to believe.
Cherry-picking single words or overly broad concepts after the fact to justify secret meetings of public bodies does not satisfy the law, nor the rights of the public to be informed about what its government is doing in the public's name.