EDITORIAL: Note the 'public' in public officials

The Dispatch Editorial Board
Temporary county worker Doris Feeser sorts and stores items returned from polling sites at the Elections and Voters Office at the York County Administration Building Thursday, November 7, 2019. The final vote tally was released earlier that morning after glitches with the new voting procedure on Tuesday delayed the count. Bill Kalina photo

Walking quorums. Illegal meetings. 

York County officialdom has been on a roll lately, laying bare its utter disdain for the public's right to know.

Take for example York County's default response to a disastrous municipal election on Nov. 5. Surely, torn ballots, lawsuit threats and a days-long recount were of public interest.

And yet, even as statewide news outlets covered county's inability to run an election, county commissioners announced a closed-door meeting with a hand-picked group of officials, election workers and private interests.

It became obvious after a few phone calls that all three commissioners planned on attending, which would constitute a quorum of the county board and trigger the state Sunshine Act. 

When called on the clear attempt to cut out the public, the county's spokesman, Mark Walters, was apocalyptic. He blasted reporters on social media for doing their jobs and pressing for basic transparency.

Hours later, the county relented and opened the meeting. 

A tweet Friday, Nov. 11, 2019, from York County spokesman Mark Walters defending the county's decision to hold a closed-door meeting, which might have violated state open meeting law. The county reversed its decision and opened the meeting to the public hours later.

But it wasn't just York County government that has recently shown a default desire for back-room dealing.

The West York school board, too, made clear that it would rather make decisions outside of public view. In so doing, the district further eroded public trust.

In West York's instance, the issue centered on an appointment to an open school board seat. Several residents wanted it. The board leadership and administrators decided one candidate, Doug Hoover, should assume the post without a public hearing or presentation.

And so, the fix was in — according to the board's Vice President Jeanne Herman, who was so alarmed that she blasted publicly her colleagues for the maneuver. 

But it wasn't Herman's words that stand as the most powerful indictment of West York's board. Board member George Margetas — a backer of the process — that did the most damage.

Responding to Herman's criticism, Margetas wondered aloud why she just didn't express her concerns privately in a group email

Well, for one, it would have been illegal.

Any deliberation involving a majority of any public board is, in every legal sense, a meeting. Group texts and emails are, in a very real way, a violation of state law and the public trust.

And that's precisely what Margetas was calling for here, as if it's how business is done at West Work. 

In both recent instances, local government officials displayed either ignorance of state law or disrespect for their constituencies. In both, they griped when questioned about their actions that fly in the face of basic ethical and legal guidelines. 

And, in both, they yet again gave the taxpaying public every reason not to trust them.