A Monessen resident has filed suit against the city’s mayor, accusing him of not allowing public comment on agenda items.
During a reorganization meeting on Jan. 6 at Monessen City Council, Ron Mozer and other residents questioned Mayor Matthew Shorraw about his absence from over 40 meetings since May 2018 during the public comment portion of the meeting.
“He refused to answer me and gave me a blank stare,” Mozer said Tuesday.
Not receiving an answer, however, wasn’t the reason why Mozer filed civil action against Shorraw in Westmoreland County Court of Common Pleas.
“I was quite disappointed in the approach Mayor Shorraw actually took to running the meeting,” Mozer said.
For him, it was Shorraw’s motions in the reorganization meeting to dismiss the existing and hire new people to fill the roles of city solicitor and city administrator; change the date and time of the council meetings; reinstate Grass Roots for Early Intervention; rescind an appointment to the sewage authority; advertise a position on the sewage authority; appoint four council members to their departments in a single motion; and adjourn the meeting without comments.
Mozer argued in the filing that those motions were not on the agenda, nor was public comment on those agenda items allowed, as is required by state law.
The law cited, Title 65, Sections 710-710.01, deals with rules and regulations for conduct of meetings.
It states that residents are to comment on “matters of concern, official action or deliberation which are or may be before the board or council prior to taking official action.”
The section also states that the council has the option to accept all public comment at the beginning of the meeting, which happened at the beginning of the meeting in question.
The section goes on to state that, if the council determines there’s not sufficient time at a meeting for public comment, the council may defer public comment to the next regular meeting or to a special meeting before the next regular meeting.
“It’s not that I disagree with what he’s (Shorraw) doing, but I do disagree with the depth he’s going about getting it done,” Mozer said.
He contended Shorraw’s actions were not in accordance with the spirit of a city council meeting and not in the spirit of what the state law requires the council meeting to be.
Shorraw said questions could be directed to the city’s solicitor, Tim Witt, who received the filing, but didn’t have a chance to review it.
Witt, who was not present at the meeting, said it’s his understanding that it was a reorganization meeting where such motions are made and general public comment was conducted at the start of the meeting.
“We’re in the process of reviewing the complaint and are taking it seriously,” Witt said, adding that he will make sure what occurred adheres to the state’s Sunshine Law. If corrective action is necessary, Witt said he would ensure that occurs.
Under Title 65, a judge can bar any changes from being made until a determination is made about whether the action was legal.
“Should the court determine that the meeting did not meet the requirements of this chapter, it may in its discretion find that any or all official action taken at the meeting shall be invalid. Should the court determine that the meeting met the requirements of this chapter, all official action taken at the meeting shall be fully effective,” the statute reads.
Violating the statute with “intent and purpose” can result in a summary citation, and fines that range between $100 and $2,000.