WILKES-BARRE – Almost as soon as he took the seat as Wilkes-Barre Area School Board's new president – elected by what has become a predictable 5-4 split vote – John Quinn ran into a legal challenge.
After the state-mandated re-organization meeting, in which Quinn and Louis Elmy won the posts of president and vice president, the board adjourned for a short break, then reconvened for what had been advertised as a special 6 p.m. meeting. Board member Christine Katsock, who voted against Quinn and Elmy, challenged the legality of the session.
Katsock noted that the board president is supposed to call meetings, and asked who called this one. MaryAnne Toole, who had just stepped down as president, said member Phil Latinski had called assistant board secretary Pattie Wallace and asked that a meeting be held. Toole said she then had Wallace poll the board by phone to see if they could make a meeting, and decided to approve the meeting.
Katsock then noted the board president sets the agenda and asked who had drawn it up. Toole said she did not. Katsock said the agenda looked like items from a regular meeting, including routine actions regarding checks and contracts, rather than a special meeting, which would be restricted to special agenda items.
This is unfair to the public Katsock said. We are holding general business at a meeting that was advertised for special purposes and that we advertised for special business. It is my opinion that we are violating our own rules.
Solicitor Ray Wendolowski then called for an executive session to discuss the issue, a move challenged by Frank Sorick, head of the recently-formed Wilkes-Barre Taxpayers Association. When the board returned, Sorick said he plans to file a private criminal complaint alleging the executive session was illegal.
The state's open meeting law allows executive sessions for specific exceptions, primarily discussion of personnel issues, contracts and potential litigation. Asked what exception the abrupt meeting fell under, Wendolowski said it was a legal issue, adding that Sorick had just threatened legal action. Sorick pointed out he would not have threatened the action if the board hadn't gone into executive session, and Wendolowski replied I believe we had the right to the session.
Quinn allowed three audience members to speak as planned, then announced no votes would be held and the meeting was adjourned, rescheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 12. After the meeting, Quinn said he had opted to reschedule due to the questions regarding who set the agenda, adding that he wasn't involved in it.
Board Secretary and District Business Manager Leonard Przywara, who typically drafts the agendas, said no board members had been involved, and that he and Wallace had drawn it up based on actions requested by various administrators and department heads.