A verbal sparring match broke out between an Ambler Borough councilwoman and the borough’s solicitor Tuesday night over whether or not she had violated the Sunshine Law.
In the, at times, heated discourse between Councilwoman Sharon McCormick and Solicitor Joseph Bresnan, Bresnan accused McCormick of violating the Sunshine Law in two instances, both regarding issues discussed during executive session.
In a statement she read, McCormick said she had been “charged with violating the Sunshine Law,” and if she had, it was “not deliberate or with malice.”
She questioned a directive that all council members be copied on all email exchanges, suggesting “that increases the opportunity to be in violation of the Sunshine Law,” and adding that she “would no longer adhere” to that and “strongly suggest all do the same.”
During her nine months on council, McCormick said, she has voted in executive session, which she believes is a violation of the Sunshine Law, and would no longer participate in that either. She further suggested council bring in “an expert” to provide council members with a “tutorial” on the law.
Stating that he is an expert on Sunshine Law, Bresnan said McCormick appeared to be in violation of the law because of an email she sent to five council members – a quorum and all fellow Democrats – advocating that they always vote in favor of unions in regard to an employee disciplinary matter discussed in executive session. Bresnan indicated he believed McCormick also disclosed a discussion during executive session regarding another union matter, which is in violation of the Sunshine Law.
“It was the most troubling email I’ve seen in 30 years,” Bresnan said, “to vote in favor of the union no matter what …”
After receiving an email from McCormick who “concluded the (executive session) was in violation of the Sunshine Law, I wrote back and explained why it was not a violation,” he said. “She routinely disregards my legal advice at every turn.”
If her email was in violation, McCormick asked, why wasn’t Bresnan’s email regarding it to everyone not in violation.
“I didn’t further the conversation,” Bresnan replied. “I told you to stop … you advocated a specific position. I explained why it’s a violation. That’s how you end the issue.”
Under the Sunshine Law, governmental bodies may discuss negotiations, discipline, real estate and certain meetings with accountants and auditors in executive session, Bresnan said. While council members may ask each other where they stand on a certain issue during executive session, the vote itself must be made in public, he said, likening it to jury duty.
As for emails, “if the issue is borough business and it’s put out to more than five (a quorum) it’s a Sunshine Law violation,” Bresnan said, adding that the email “imploring fellow Democrats to vote pro-union on any union matter” fell into that category.
The directive to copy everyone one on emails is “not about agenda items,” he said; “that rule is about normal emails,” such as will council meet to discuss a particular issue.
While violation of the Sunshine Law could lead to a vote to expel someone from council, Bresnan said he had not heard back from any council member regarding such a vote, adding “no one is advocating it.”
Several council members said they were not happy with the email, but had preferred to handle it privately, rather than in public.
Council President Sal Pasceri said his intention was to speak with McCormick privately and that he was not calling for a vote.
“I was offended she was trying to inject party politics in borough business,” Councilman Frank Deruosi said.
Councilman Richard Palumbo said he had called McCormick, as he felt the email “was offensive because the implication was I should vote the way you thought and put that in front of the needs for Ambler.”
“This is a huge distraction,” he added. “There are a million things to do and we’re having a continuing conversation about emails.”
Palumbo said he did not believe council members were interested in voting McCormick off council, adding, “she’s making poor choices out of lack of experience and stubbornness.”