Saturday, January 12, 2008

Ethics Board Request: The City Solicitor Answers

City Solicitor George Specter

Here's the City Solicitor's response to my requests to the Ethics Board.

January 11, 2008

Bob Mayo
400 Ardmore Boulevard
Pittsburgh, PA

Dear Mr. Mayo:

Thank you for your recent inquiry to Sister Patrice Hughes and the members of the Pittsburgh Ethics Board regarding the Board’s compliance with the Sunshine Act, 65 Pa.C.S. §701 et seq. However, in the future, I would ask that you direct all further inquiries in hard copy to my attention.
Please rest assured that the Board has received instruction about the purview of the Act from the City’s Law Department and is aware of the restrictions it imposes upon their activities. In response to specific questions to have posed, we respond as follows:

1. The memo authored by the law department summarizing the law is not subject to disclosure under Pennsylvania’s Right to Know Act, 65 P.S.
§66.1 et seq.

2. The Board intends to comply with the mandate of the Sunshine Act which requires open meetings in all cases where there is a quorum present, and where official action is taken or agency business deliberated. 65 P.S. §703. Whether the Board chooses to hold open meetings in situations not covered by this provision, for example when there is no quorum present, is a matter for their discretion.

3. There may be times when a meeting which otherwise meets the criteria of Section 703 may fall within one of the six enumerated exceptions for an executive session. In these cases, as you note, the Board is obligated to give a brief recap of the matters discussed in the executive session. At all future meetings which are preceded by a closed session, the Board will honor this practice.

4. We agree that mere briefings on other cities’ ethics codes would not fall within one of the six stated reasons for an executive session. However, as such a briefing would not involve official action or deliberation on agency business, it is outside the scope of Section 703, and no public meeting is required.

Your letter appears to suggest that the Board may never meet or communicate outside of an open meeting. We do not interpret the Sunshine Act in so draconian a manner, and the clear language of the statute supports our position.

Please be assured that compliance with the Sunshine Act is a priority for the Ethics Hearing Board.


George R. Specter


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