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Officials resolve to halt disruptions at meetings

Published March 22. 2010 05:00PM

Tempers flare, voices bellow and fingers jab the air as Rush Township residents and supervisors lock horns at public meetings on issue after issue.

Supervisors Chairman Steve Simchak and Supervisor Robert Leibensperger in January over the objections of Vice-Chairman Shawn Gilbert adopted a policy that limited each member of the public to two minutes to state his or her opinion or ask questions, and asking them not to disrupt meetings.

But emotions still often reached the boiling point, erupting in furious shouting matches.

On Tuesday, supervisors adopted a policy Gilbert again opposed aimed at reining in outbursts.

"We passed that resolution on Jan. 4 about disrupting meetings. People were still acting up, meetings were being disrupted and positive things couldn't happen, so we enacted this policy," said Simchak. "No more second chances: you will be arrested."

Efforts to reach Gilbert for comment on the new policy were unsuccessful.

The policy states:

"Members of the public are welcome and invited to attend and to take part in the public meetings of the Rush Township board of supervisors. However, a disturbing trend has begun, where members of the public believe they can come to public meetings of the board of supervisors and act disrespectful toward the supervisors or engage in conduct designed solely to disrupt the public meeting.

"This will not be permitted to continue. While we recognize the right of citizens to come to meetings to voice their displeasure or disagreement with supervisors' actions, personal threats and personal attacks are not protected free speech. The Pennsylvania Legislature in the PA Crimes Code at the Title 18 Pa. C.S.A., Section 5508 states: A person commits misdemeanor of the third degree if, with intent to prevent or disrupt a lawful meeting, procession or gathering, he disturbs or interrupts it.

"In addition, the legislature also has enacted the crime of Disorderly Conduct, which provides that "A person is guilty of disorderly conduct, if with intent to cause public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm or recklessly creating a risk thereof, he (1) engages in fighting or threatening, or in violent or tumultuous behavior; (2) makes unreasonable noise; (3) uses obscene language, or makes an obscene gesture; or (4) creates a hazardous or physically offensive condition by any act which serves no legitimate purpose of the actor."

"Any person who, from this time forward, engages in conduct which violates the law, as stated above, or any other applicable law, will be removed from the meeting and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."

The new policy was read aloud before the start of Tuesday's public supervisors' meeting. The meeting proceeded in a calm, orderly fashion, Simchak said.

In other matters Tuesday, supervisors announced that township grant writers Prodesign Plus have written a grant application, which they would also administer, for the federal HOME Investment Partnerships Act program. The grant would help residents of modest means with home improvements such as heating systems and roofs.

"We're going for everything we can for the betterment of the residents of the township" Leibensperger said.

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