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EDITORIAL: York County needs to open the doors

The Dispatch Editorial Board
The York County Commissioners hear a report from IXP Corp. who recently completed a 911 Center audit, Wednesday, July 24, 2019.
John A. Pavoncello photo

Just open the meeting, York County.

Precisely no one should have been surprised when county officials said the newly created Public Safety Advisory Commission would meet behind closed doors.

Opacity is York County's default position. A simple rehash of the county's recent campaign against access makes that fact abundantly clear.

Just this past year, York County commissioners hoped to convene a clearly illegal, invite-only confab with election officials to hash out November's disastrous municipal election outside of the view of the pesky taxpaying public.

County officials continue to stand by their senseless — and likely unconstitutional — ban on photography on a public sidewalk outside York County Prison. And, in 2018, they mounted a legal fight to keep secret a report about finances and operations at York County Prison, a matter of obvious public interest.

And now, it seems that keeping that very same public ignorant of the new advisory commission's deliberations was county solicitor Michèlle Pokrifka's primary goal when she drafted its bylaws. That's especially true when one considers that the entire county Board of Commissioners sits on the commission as nonvoting but tie-breaking members. 

Frankly, York County's 911 center is a veritable mess. County commissioners have admitted as much over the past two years as they've spent piles of cash in search of a fix.

The 911 center's operations don't belong exclusively to police and fire agencies. It's not some private foundation that serves only first responders. 

The 911 center is a public agency, serving public interests, that's funded with public dollars. 

Any debate about its failings and future should be had in full view, especially since there can be no doubt that county commissioners will base policy on them. Hiding behind a so-called advisory body — especially one that includes the county's entire legislative branch — is nothing more than an cynical attempt at limiting embarrassment.

If nothing else, the county's decision to keep these meetings private flies in the face of the intent of the Sunshine Act, which specifically states most deliberations should occur in open meeting. 

York County's contempt for the public's right to know is a stain on the record of every elected official. But it's also an indictment of Pokrifka and county prison board solicitor Donald Reihart, a duo who have forgotten for whom they work.

Even if one accepts the legal validity of Pokrifka's end-run on the state Sunshine Act, there's nothing officially preventing the county from allowing public access to the new commission's meetings. 

County officials' unwillingness to host an honest policy debate in full public view is the sole barrier to access here. 

Municipal attorneys throughout the country, mind you, are often the lone voice arguing for transparency and access in an attempt to protect the elected class from itself.

But that level of commitment to the law typically requires a fully functioning government. Instead, York County taxpayers foot the bill for a small cadre of good ol' boys who can't be bothered to answer basic questions.

The shut-it-down attitude in York County government is an assault on the public trust in a country where people are losing faith in public institutions.

And it seems county officials just can't help but act like they have something to hide, whether they actually do or not.