Lawsuit accuses Montgomery County of violating Sunshine Act in connection to meeting that resulted in school closure order

Three Montgomery County residents have filed a lawsuit in Montgomery County alleging that the Montgomery County Office of Health & Human Services and the Montgomery County Board of Health did not follow requirements under the Sunshine Act in connection to a special meeting held over two days on November 12th and 13th. During the meeting, the board voted unanimously to order schools to close their buildings and operate virtually for two weeks starting November 23rd due to pandemic concerns. The three county commissioners are also named in the suit.

According to the Office of Open Records, “The Pennsylvania Sunshine Act, 65 Pa.C.S. §§ 701-716, requires agencies to deliberate and take official action on agency business in an open and public meeting. It requires that meetings have prior notice, and that the public can attend, participate, and comment before an agency takes that official action.”

The lawsuit accuses the county officials of violating the Sunshine Act in three ways. The first allegation is that the meeting wasn’t properly advertised as required. Included with the lawsuit is evidence of the advertisement of the meeting for November 12th, but not the continuation of the meeting on November 13th.

The second allegation is that the public wasn’t provided the opportunity for public comment as required. While there were two-and-one-half hours of public comment during the November 12th portion of the meeting, the Zoom meeting was limited to 500 people. The November 14th portion of the meeting was streamed on Facebook and there was no opportunity for public comment provided.

The third allegation is that the board deliberated outside of the meeting. The suit states that during the recess the text of the order was significantly changed. This refers to a line that addressed the possible need to extend the order beyond the 14-days. This line was removed during the recess and not part of the order when it was voted on.

The plaintiffs are asking the court to declare the order invalid and issue an injunction on enforcing it.

You can read the lawsuit here.

More to come.