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York County's CARE cash debate will be in public view, officials say

Lindsey O'Laughlin
York Dispatch

All deliberations about how York County will distribute its $40.5 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds will take place at public meetings, the county commissioners said Thursday.

Commissioner Julie Wheeler said Thursday she used a poor choice of words a day earlier when she said the commissioners would deliberate on the federal CARES Act funding and later update the public with the details.

Wheeler said she was referring to the process of asking questions about how the program will function, learning the rules and requirements and ensuring that the county has a fair process in place before determining the distribution of funds.

"We haven’t had any discussions on how much to allocate," she said Thursday.

The state Sunshine Act requires governmental boards to discuss and debate most topics, such as the allocation of funding, in public view. The law carves out only a few specific exemptions to the open meeting requirement. 

That requirement allows the public to witness the discussion and participate during public comment, said Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel for the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association.

Confusion over whether the board had violated the open meetings law arose Wednesday at the Board of Commissioners meeting when Wheeler announced the board had met Tuesday and had preliminary discussions about the process of using the federal funds and how the money would be allocated.

York County Commission candidate Julie Wheeler talks with family friend Judy Collins during an Election Day watch party at the Strand Theater lobby Tuesday, November 5, 2019. Bill Kalina photo

"I know everyone’s anxious to hear who’s getting what, but the three commissioners and our county administrator want to make sure we’re deliberate and making very wise decisions on who gets that money and that it’s being used for the right reasons," she said.

Commissioner Doug Hoke said Thursday that the board met with county administrator Mark Derr on Monday to go over the general parameters of the CARES Act.

The commissioners also had a conference call Tuesday, Hoke said, with Kevin Schreiber, president and CEO of the York County Economic Alliance, for Schreiber's input about the parameters and guidelines for how the funding program would function.

"We’re not even sure how the process is really going to be put into place," Hoke said.

Wheeler, Hoke and Commissioner Ron Smith said the deliberations about who would receive the funding would be held in public.

In response to a question Wednesday about whether the commissioners would hold all future CARES Act funding deliberations in public, county solicitor Michelle Pokrifka said she believed they would.

There was some confusion about whether there had been one or two meetings about the CARES Act prior to the public meeting Wednesday.

In her announcement, Wheeler was referring to the Tuesday meeting with Schreiber. When asked about Wheeler's comment, Pokrifka said the only CARES Act meeting she was aware of had occurred Monday and that there was no discussion at that meeting about how to allocate funds, which appeared to contradict Wheeler's initial statement.

The next  commissioners meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. Monday at the county administrative center, 28 E. Market St. in York City.

The meetings are usually held the first, third and fifth Wednesday of the month, but the Board of Elections is meeting Monday to certify the results of the June 2 primary, so Wheeler said they decided to hold a commissioners' meeting that day as well.

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