Friends of the Zeiss
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2006 December 12
Members of the Council of the
Dear Council Members:
On Monday, City Council held a “Post-Agenda” session on funding for The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. As with all Post-Agenda sessions, this session was open to the general public. This was also one of the relatively few Post-Agenda sessions that was broadcast on the City’s Government Communications Cable Television Channel, City Channel Pittsburgh, on Comcast channel 13.
However, I only found out about this Post-Agenda session, inadvertently, when two people who attended the December 5 regular legislative session of City Council, where the Post-Agenda time and date was announced, informed me of the meeting. I did not attend the December 5 meeting, as I was scheduled to attend another meeting at that time.
As with many of the Post-Agenda sessions held in the past, the December 11 Post-Agenda included discussion of important City business, including the request for significant City funding from a major City institution. Yet few people knew this Post-Agenda would occur since it was not posted or advertised in any public location.
I discussed this matter with the City Clerk, and she informs me that the City Law Department has told her that posting or advertising the date and time of Post-Agenda sessions is not legally required. I would disagree with this legal interpretation.
From my reading of the Pennsylvania Sunshine Act, the difference seems to be in the interpretation of a “deliberation” versus a “conference.” I would strongly argue that most Post-Agendas held by City Council are deliberations, as the discussions usually lead to some type of decision regarding City business.
Certainly, The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh expected that the December 11 discussion may lead to a decision regarding additional library funding. The fact that there is no imminent decision on additional funding for the library system does not mean that this discussion would not contribute to additional library funding some time in the future—perhaps, the not-too-distant future.
Further, I note that the City Council President, on December 11, made an extra effort to ensure that a quorum of City Council members attended this Post-Agenda. Along with the decision to televise this Post-Agenda session, this is another indication that the meeting was to include discussion of significant City business. And, any time there is a major financial request of the City, particularly by a major City institution, this certainly has to be considered important public business that City residents would want to know about.
Members of the Council of the City of Pittsburgh 2006 December 12 Page 2 of 2
Now, at this time, I am not asking for the City Law Department to reevaluate whether these Post-Agenda sessions fall under the public notice requirements of the Pennsylvania Sunshine Act. I believe they do. However, a new legal interpretation that agrees with my assessment would mean that the City would have to spend additional money legally advertising these Post-Agenda sessions.
It is not my wish to compel additional City expenditures, particularly considering the current financial condition of the City. And, although legal advertisements were once a quite necessary communications tool, today they are no-where-near as consumer-friendly as notice on an Internet web site.
I am asking that, from now on, all Post-Agenda sessions of Pittsburgh City Council receive notice, of their date, time, and location, on the regular City Council bulletin board postings and on the “Schedules” page of the “Meetings and Minutes” section of the City Council web site. This would provide adequate notice of Post-Agenda sessions to the general public, involving little expense to the City Clerk’s Office.
I, respectfully, ask that you instruct the City Clerk’s Office to provide such public notice of all future Post-Agenda sessions.
Glenn A. Walsh
Copy: David Tessitor