Home Rule Charter Violations . . . Legal Cases from Philadelphia and Erie County

I received fascinating information (see below) from JudgeNJury citing 2 examples of cases of violations to Pennsylvania’s Home Rule Charter.  It is reassuring to know that others have fought the battle (and won) using the basis of procedures contained in the Home Rule Charter.  This supports the notion that a declaratory judgment action rendering the St. Davids Golf Club escrow vote null and void would be successful.  My question is would an individual have to file (and win) a declaratory judgment to force the supervisors to follow the Home Rule Charter.  If the Home Rule Charter states that supervisors must publicize all agenda items at least 8 hours in advance, shouldn’t that be followed?  Why do we have to spend time and money to force Home Rule Charter procedure to be followed?

We know that Chair Lamina believes, and states to the Main Line Suburban Life newspaper, that  “Under our current rules, any supervisor is free to offer any motion he chooses at any time, . . . It is not unusual at all for board members to offer unpublished motions during discussions at our meetings and I believe it’s reasonable and appropriate for our board to have this flexibility where needed in its proceedings . . .” 

I would hope that with review of the Home Rule Charter, counsel from the township solicitor and the citing of Pennsylvania cases, that Chair Lamina and Supervisors Kampf, Olson and Richter would acknowledge their ‘miss-step’.  I think that it would bode far better for them and the residents of this township, that our elected officials could just ‘fix’ their mistake without requiring a declaratory judgment action.  Perhaps township solicitor Tom Hogan could review the procedures contained within the Home Rule Charter and offer guidance to our Board of Supervisors.  Based on the actions taken on January 25, and the prevailing attitude of Chair Lamina, no motion is off-limits, including those not publicized. 

Please take the time to review these cases below provided by JudgeNJury:

JudgeNJury, on February 6th, 2010 Said:  

Here are two cases worth reading. Neither is directly on point, but they both provide some flavor:

City of Philadelphia v. Weiner (http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=15768620678301027768&q=550+A.2d+274&hl=en&as_sdt=800000000002): Philadelphia’s Home Rule Charter contains a provision requiring the City to give public notice when it intends introduce a bill. The Philadelphia City Council introduced a bill to amend the City’s real estate transfer tax. However, City Council did not give public notice of the new proposed tax rate contained in the bill and the new rate never was discussed at a public hearing before the bill was adopted. Several parties, including a consumer group and an association of realtors, sued to enjoin the City from enforcing the bill because City Council did not follow the procedures set forth in the City’s Home Rule Charter. The trial court granted the injunction, and, in the opinion cited above, the appeals court affirmed the injunction.

Here, like the City of Philadelphia in the Weiner case, the Board of Supervisors did not follow the procedures in its Home Rule Charter. Specifically, the Township did not include the escrow motion on the agenda for the January 25 Board meeting. So the Weiner case would seem to support an argument that the Township can be enjoined from acting on the motion (assuming it has not already).

County Council v. County Executive (http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=3165189562536297706&q=600+A.2d+257&hl=en&as_sdt=800000000002): The Erie County Home Rule Charter (apparently – the case is less than crystal clear) contained a provision requiring the County to conduct a performance review of any County employee before it could increase that employee’s salary. The Erie County Executive increased the salary of a County employee without conducting a performance review. The Erie County Council brought a declaratory judgment action seeking to declare the Executive’s action null and void because it violated the Home Rule Charter. A month after Council filed its suit, the employee whose salary was increased retired. Arguing that the retirement made the case moot, the Executive asked the trial court to dismiss the case, which it did. The appeals court, in the cited opinion, upheld the dismissal.

The ultimate result of the Erie County case, obviously, is not helpful from the perspective of those who would like to challenge the Board’s actions here (though the mootness issues in the Erie County case seem much different than any that might arise here, so the result itself may not be that significant). What is significant, however, is that the case suggests that bringing a declaratory judgment action to declare null and void an action taken in contravention of a Home Rule Charter is the proper procedure in this situation

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8 Responses

  1. I don’t understand how Lamina can say what he did in the newspaper. Doesn’t he know that if the government of Tredyffrin Township is to follow the Home Rule Charter, he doesn’t get to go outside those procedures. I know where I will be tomorrow night! I am hoping that these people come to their senses. You are right Pattye, it shouldn’t take a lawsuit to make these elected officials do what is right!

  2. With everything going on with the school district, it seems ever more clear that the BOS moved their meeting TO create the conflict. Somewhere back John P pointed out the loopholes in the HRC — but here is another one that I think might be useful:

    601. ACTIONS REQUIRING ORDINANCES. In addition to any other power or duty required by law or by
    this Charter to be exercised by ordinance, those powers and duties of the Board shall be exercised by ordinance

    i. Establish, alter or amend any zoning ordinance, subdivision procedure, land development, land sue or
    building regulation

    DOES the return of the escrow not alter or amend a land development plan? In which case, it requires an ordinance, not a motion????

  3. I will take some time to review those cases – very interesting. Also, I don’t believe that Section 601 is applicable here. That appears to refer to changing the actual land development procedures, ordinances, etc. It is not to make specific amendments to a specific land developments plan. For example, if the Board wanted to require a particular setback requirement for all new developments it would need to come by ordinances. There is a specific procedure for amending a land development plan – more on that to follow.

    • Thanks Roger. Yes, please review the cases. It certainly appears to my ‘non-legal’ eyes that there are several instances of how the Home Rule Charter was violated with the St. Davids escrow vote. I have talked to 7 or 8 attorneys and I have yet to find someone who does not feel that there are issues surrounding the process (or rather lack of) that caused the vote to be passed. I just hope that we can get some resolution without the requirement of a lawsuit. But as it now stands, the township is in a very precarious position, open to lawsuits from any builder/developer who has escrow on hold for unfinished projects. This ruling of the supervisors also affects anyone currently in the land development process; furthermore, it also leaves the township liable for any future development projects.

  4. Can anyone who’s more familiar with the recent voting history of the board discuss any time where something else has been brought to a vote without being on the agenda?

    Is there a precedence for this type of behavior, or is this the first time this has happened?

  5. I look forward to EJ showcasing her political prowess over all of us this evening. Maybe she will roll her eyes again like she did at the last meeting. On a less sarcastic note. lets hope we see some common sense displayed by LORK tonight.

  6. Not sure if this has been covered already, but ..what is the procedure for recalls of Tredyffrin Supervisors. What options do the citizens have to remove Supervisors?

  7. LRK tonight — others have said Olson will still be away…so at least there will be no 4-3 governmental edicts.

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