COUDERSPORT — An engagement letter to obtain an attorney was approved after a 45 minute executive session for “potential litigation” during the last Coudersport Borough Council meeting, July 15.
Council Vice President George Hults made a motion to allow the borough manager to sign an attorney engagement letter with the firm Eckert Seamans and for the council president to execute the letter “for the purpose of potential litigation and other advice relating to the subject matter.” Council member Brian Ruane seconded, the motion passed 6-0.
The hourly rate of this law firm is $280.50.
When pressed by the Potter Leader-Enterprise for an explanation of the executive session and the motion, borough solicitor Dan Glassmire said, “We believe that we may be involved in litigation. We have reason to think that that’s serious and we needed specialized advice and so we’ve hired the Eckert Seamans firm … and they’re going to provide some more specialized legal advice.”
The Pennsylvania Sunshine Act, which requires agencies to deliberate and take official action on agency business in an open and public meeting, among other things, allows government agencies to hold executive sessions, which are closed to the public, for a few reasons including potential litigation.
But the specific reason for an executive session must be announced in the public meeting either before or directly after the executive session. This requirement is the result of a 1993 case law interpreting the act, specifically Reading Eagle Co. v. Council of City of Reading. It states, “The reasons stated by the public agency must be specific, indicating a real, discrete matter.”
When this newspaper explained that the Sunshine Act required that the reason for an executive session be identified, Glassmire cited attorney-client privilege and said there are a lot of good reasons not to publicize potential legal action. He did not identify the specific area or reason as to why the borough would need specialized legal services or why it felt it was facing potential litigation during the public meeting, as required by the Sunshine Act.
But after a one-on-one conversation with this paper outside of the public meeting and a more thorough review of the Sunshine Act and Reading Eagle Co. v. Council of City of Reading, Glassmire acknowledged that the general nature of the potential litigation needs to be announced. He confirmed the potential litigation was in regards to the pool and the company that was hired to build it.
Glassmire will inform the council of the Sunshine Act requirements during the next council meeting.