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Westmoreland County Community College shuts public out of meeting

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Ronald Eberhardt, vice president of administrative services for Westmoreland County Community College, closes the door to a meeting on the campus near Youngwood on Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2012. Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review

Westmoreland County Community College refused public access Wednesday to board of trustees committee meetings that previously were open to the public and the media.

The college denied the Tribune-Review entrance to a finance and facilities committee meeting in a boardroom on the main campus near Youngwood.

“The community college is wrong in this situation,” said Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel for the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association. Pennsylvania's Sunshine Act, which governs public meetings, defines a board committee as an “agency” in its own right, Melewsky said. Because the law considers a committee an agency, committee meetings must be open to the public, she said.

“If you cut the public out of the committee meetings, you are, for all intents and purposes, cutting them out of the process where the policy is formulated,” Melewsky said.

WCCC solicitor Albert Gaudio said the meetings were closed because a quorum of the full board of trustees did not attend and the committee did not take official action.

But Melewsky said only a quorum of the committee needed to be present to make the meeting open.

“We've been experimenting with different committee arrangements,” said WCCC President Daniel Obara.

Obara said the board reviews its committee structure annually and will look at it again at a board retreat in November.

During the two-hour meeting, committee members reviewed proposals for construction managers and discussed a number of contract bids, including those for purchasing equipment, replacing the roof at Bushy Run education center and replacing the HVAC unit and controls in Commissioners Hall, according to an agenda provided in advance.

In contrast to the committee meeting, the full board meeting lasted about 45 minutes with agenda items accounting for less than 30 minutes.

The Trib has covered several committee meetings in the past, which take place before the monthly trustees meeting, but a reporter and photographer were kept outside the closed-door meeting Wednesday afternoon.

Kari Andren is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-2856 or [email protected].

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