In Rush Township, resident Joe Shamonsky isn't permitted to attend meetings of the board of supervisors. He showed up at a meeting this week and was escorted by police out of the room even before the meeting began.
We understand that Shamonsky is a gadfly and that he can be very irritating to the supervisors. Many towns, townships, and school boards have individuals like Shamonsky who attend their meetings.
We also can agree that if a resident becomes too unruly or speaks during periods that aren't open to the floor, and prove disruptive to the conducting of business, or that they are harassing individuals around them, that their removal from the meeting might be justified. But it should be for that meeting only.
It's hard to justify a blanket ban on meeting attendance for any resident unless an obvious physical threat had occurred and from what we understand, this wasn't the case with Shamonsky.
Meetings of boards of supervisors, town councils, authorities, and school boards are "public" as determined under state and federal legislature. You have a right to attend these meetings. You have the right to speak up at these meetings, asking questions, supporting the board, or disagreeing with the board.
If you become emotional and disagree too vociferously, you might be booted from the meeting room.
A blanket life-long ban on attendance shouldn't be legal. It makes it too easy for boards to ban anyone who doesn't agree with them.
We don't doubt that the supervisors had reason to have Shamonsky removed from past meetings because of his actions. Such an outburst does not constitute banishment from future meetings.
Shamonsky is a taxpayer. He has a right to express his views. He has a right to attend meetings of his supervisors; to witness their actions and voice his objections or approvals in appropriate fashion.
In this country, you are allowed to protest against even the President of the United States and not be punished so long as the protest is orderly. It's a right for which our forefathers fought and died.
Shamonsky and any other citizen should be permitted to attend meetings of the Rush Township Board of Supervisors. Should the supervisors feel there is a major problem, then the proper method of handling it is through the court system.
There's something called "The Sunshine Law" in Pennsylvania which requires that all municipal and school board meetings be open to the public. There's no "except dissenters" written in the Sunshine Law.
Hopefully, the supervisors will re-think their action of a ban for Shamonsky. And, if this does occur, it's also up to Mr. Shamonsky to act like a responsible adult.
If the ban is allowed to remain, will other panels do the same thing? Will other gadflys in other communities not be allowed to attend meetings? Will freedom of speech be repressed?
Will "opinion" writers come under the same penalty?
Let's hope not. This isn't the American way.
By Ron Gower