Boro council tightens policy

BY STACI WILSON

A week after Montrose Council members bolted from their Feb. 6 meeting after an audience member attempted to videotape the proceeding, the borough reps convened Tuesday night for the sole purpose of passing a policy regulating the adoption of meeting agendas and rules of conduct of the public meetings.

In the opening paragraph of the policy states it was created to ensure the compliance of the council “in full accord with the content and the spirit of the Pennsylvania Sunshine Act.”

Council passed a five-point policy regarding meeting agendas and a 13-point policy on conduct of public meetings.

Councilmember Julanne Skinner sounded the only “no” vote to the policy; with Council President Tom Lamont, Craig Reimel, Sean Granahan and Tony Pickett voicing “yes” to the policy. Councilmen Todd Chamberlain and Randy Schuster were absent from the meeting.

Skinner said she took exception to the exclusionary language of the policy.

Under the rules of conduct, public comment in meetings is restricted to borough residents and taxpayers.

Skinner said an item was listed by a councilman on the Feb 6 agenda and an individual present at the meeting, while not a borough resident or taxpayer, had an actual interest in the discussion item and wanted to respond to council.

“I don’t equivocally appreciate or sanction that point,” Skinner said.

Following Skinner’s remarks, no other discussion from council was brought forward.

A public comment period was not offered at the meeting, not was it listed on the agenda.

Other rules of conduct for meetings adopted by council include: limiting opportunity to speak by borough residents and taxpayers to three minutes; council can direct a group of borough and taxpayers wishing to comment on the same issue to appoint a spokesperson; video and recording devices are to be located behind the last row of chairs in the meeting room; video recording devices shall be mounted on tripods and remain stationary and unmanned throughout the meeting; audio recording devices must also be located behind the back row and must be visible; no recording of private conversations between council and audience members or council personnel.

Under the agenda policy adopted by council, agenda requests must be submitted to the borough secretary no later than 3 p.m. of the business day prior to the scheduled meeting and only requests of borough residents and taxpayers would be considered; agenda item requests are limited to only matters of borough business and of personal concern directly impacting the residents and taxpayers of the borough.

It also states that the council president has the final approval of the agenda content.

Although members of the audience voiced some concerns with the policy, no official public comment period was listed on the agenda or offered by council.

Lamont offered no comment when questioned after the meeting adjourned. “I don’t answer to news reporters,” he said.

Vera Scroggins, who attempted to videotape the Feb 6 meeting, objected to the meeting and to the council’s newly adopted meeting policy.

Before Tuesday’s meeting was called to order, borough police officers asked Scroggins to move her camera and tripod to the back row, citing a “health and safety issue.”

Solicitor Marion O’Malley said that for the purposes of managing the meeting, the borough has the right to make rules for public safety. “That’s why we’re asking you to move to the back,” O’Malley said. “If you believe that violates the Sunshine Act, you have redress through the court system.”

Police advised Scroggins to move the camera or face a possible disorderly conduct citation. After refusing, borough officers moved Scroggins’ camera to the back of the room.