Folks, this could be one of the biggest crime waves Pennsylvania’s ever seen. Last week the Norristown Times Herald revealed that two of the commissioners of Montgomery County have been meeting for breakfast at the Jem Restaurant in East Norriton and talking county business.
And since there are only three commissioners, that seems like an open-and-shut violation of the state sunshine law, which requires that deliberations by a majority of an official body occur only in public meetings.
There were jokes about it at first, but soon Montgomery County DA Risa Vetri Ferman confirmed she’s investigating.
I say that this might be a statewide crime wave because the state constitution requires that every county elect only three commissioners. So any time two of them in any of the state’s 67 counties talk bidness over barbecue, they’re likely running afoul of the law. I’ve spent a fair amount of time in my reporting days complaining about public officials deliberating behind closed doors. When I was shut out of city hall meetings between the mayor and Council members, I used to tell the cops at the door there was a crime going on in that room, and they ought to make an arrest.
The weird thing is that while an agency meeting in secret drives me nuts, I actually like the idea of two officials getting together to compare thoughts, trade information and hash out differences.
But if a discussion of two constitutes a majority and violates the law, we’ve got a problem. And if enterprising reporters across the Commonwealth start eavesdropping in diners, we could see a parade of exposes.
I have no idea where the Montco case is headed, but it’s fun to watch, partly because the commission is so bitterly divided.
My favorite quote so far is from Republican commissioner Bruce Castor, who was never invited to the breakfast confabs. He told Christine Olley of the Daily News, “I always wondered why I was the only one at work and then everyone would show up at the same time.”