Editorial: Enjoying the sunshine
We’ve turned the clocks back. There are five or so weeks until the hours of daylight we get to enjoy here in Pennsylvania start to move in the right direction again. Make no mistake: We like the sunshine here at the Chester County Press.
That’s especially true when it comes to the state’s Sunshine Act, which outlines some specific requirements for borough councils, township boards, school boards, and other governing bodies when they conduct meetings and make public records available.
The Commonwealth Court recently handed down its opinion in Coleman v. Parkland School District. The court squarely rejected a school board’s interpretation of the law that would have allowed any issue to be added to an agenda and acted upon during a meeting. The Commonwealth Court found that the Parkland School District violated the Sunshine Act when it amended its agenda in October 2021 to include the consideration of a collective bargaining agreement without providing advance public notice. The Coleman v. Parkland School District case involved the last-minute addition and approval of a controversial multi-year, multimillion-dollar contract. In rejecting the school district’s argument, the court recognized that allowing any issues to be added at the eleventh hour would render the agenda requirements meaningless, defeating the legislative intent that forms the foundation of the agenda provisions.
The Sunshine Act requires a notice of at least 24 hours of all issues to be discussed or acted upon to be provided on meeting agendas and prohibits agencies from deliberating or acting on non-agenda items. The law does allow for action on non-agenda emergency issues and it also permits minor and non-contractual issues that arise within 24 hours or during a meeting to be added to an agenda and acted on during a meeting.
It’s easier than ever for elected officials and government staff to conduct business and make decisions without scrutiny from the public. That’s what makes adherence to the Sunshine Act so important.
Organizations like the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association advocate for legislation
that improves public access laws in the commonwealth, and of course we support this effort.
It’s also important for elected officials and government staff to take seriously the duty to inform the public about how taxpayer money is being spent. Everyone should strive to not just meet the Sunshine Act requirements, but to exceed them.