In the middle of months of infighting over a land deal involving the site of a former coal mine and chemical maker, one Cecil Township supervisor is hauling three colleagues to Washington County Court and accusing them of breaking the state open-meeting law.
Supervisor Thomas Casciola’s “complaint in equity and declaratory relief” asks a common pleas judge to find fellow supervisors Cindy Fisher, Frank Egigio and Ron Fleeher to have violated the Sunshine Act during an executive session April 23, when they allegedly fired the law firm the township was consulting on its agreement to purchase an 87-acre property in Muse from the Swiss multinational ABB and pay their attorney fees.
Fisher denied having taken any votes during the meeting or that any violation of the law took place.
“I’m just disappointed,” she said. “This is ridiculous, and a complete and total waste of time, and of a political nature.”
Casciola’s filing – drawn up by Washington attorney Lane Turturice and filed May 23 – represents the overflow of a long-running disagreement among supervisors into the court system. Fisher, Egizio and Fleeher had said they opposed the purchase.
The trio voted publicly on May 6 to fire Tucker Arensberg, which represented the township in the purchase, and to have township solicitor Gretchen Moore review the municipality’s purchase agreement with ABB. Since then, no further action has taken place.
But Casciola’s complaint asserts that during the previous executive session, his rivals took illegal official action, including voting to dismiss the firm and directing them not to attend an April 25 special meeting concerning the plans to purchase the property – an account he gave during that meeting.
Fisher has disputed his version, saying supervisors asked Brad Tupi, an attorney with Tucker Arensberg, about the possibility of breaking the contract and Tupi opined that it was binding and suggested they seek a second opinion, and they decided to do so.
Under contracts supervisors approved in 2017 – just before Fleeher joined the board and created a new majority on the matter – the township had agreed to buy the property for a nominal $10 and pay $450,000 toward needed remediation work, with ABB covering the rest. The purchase was contingent on the property being cleaned up in accordance with state environmental-remediation standards, which would protect the township from environmental liability as the new owner.
Tupi and his colleague, David Mongillo, weren’t at the special April 25 meeting concerning the sale.
Turturice wrote that the three supervisors initially called the executive session to discuss legal issues involving the contract, but instead used it to prevent the firm’s lawyers and the environmental firm American Geosciences Inc., which the township also consulted on the project, from offering opinions favorable to the purchase.
“I would agree that the reason that the executive session was called falls into one of the exception of the public meeting rule,” Turturice said. “These supervisors, for whatever reason, wanted to prevent Tucker Arensberg from rendering an opinion in front of the public.”
He also asserted the supervisors wanted to prevent representatives from American Geosciences Inc. from attending the meeting, too.
David Perry, president of that firm, did attend the meeting to offer his opinion the cleanup work was possible there.
Casciola’s complaint requests a court order requiring the defendants to follow the Sunshine Act, and to pay his attorney fees and other costs of the case. It alleges the defendants engaged in a “pattern” of violating the law, but only refers to the one instance that supposedly happened on April 23.
The township is listed as a defendant, but Turturice said he now intends to dismiss the claim against it because it’s not a target of the case.
Fisher maintained that she and her colleagues hadn’t fired Tucker Arensberg during the closed-door meeting. But even if they had, she said, the proposal to do so was on the agenda and subject to a public discussion and vote.
“What Tom’s saying isn’t true, but any way you look at it, there is no Sunshine Act violation,” she said.
Moore didn’t immediately return a call on Thursday. Tupi also didn’t return a message before deadline.