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Answer wanted

Published February 18. 2011 05:00PM

A Carbon County business owner and member of the Carbon County Constitutionalists has filed a petition in court against the board of commissioners in the hopes of getting an answer to his question.

During the county commissioners' meeting on Thursday, Commissioner William O'Gurek, chairman, explained that the county received a notice of appeal/petition for judicial review from the county prothonotary's office. The petition was filed by Robert Dages, owner of Vision Stone Stoves and a member of the Carbon County Constitutionalists, on Feb. 14. It will now go before a Carbon County Court of Common Pleas judge for a hearing and ruling on the appeal.

O'Gurek noted that the history of this petition dates back to mid-2010 when Dages sought information from the county "relative to the constitutionality of the development of Packerton Yards." The commissioners responded to his request by stating that the case law they are citing would not be given to Dages because it is protected by attorney/client privileges.

According to the petition, which names Dages as the appellant/petitioner and Carbon County as the appellee/respondent, Dages is asking that the commissioners answer the question, "What is the alleged specific constitutional provisions/authority in the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the alleged 'case law' upon which the Carbon County Commissioners rely for Carbon County and its Commissioners to purchase and develop any private property (specifically here the Packerton Business Park Project) and to use public funds for these purposes in direct competition with private business owners and/or developers?"

Following his initial denial for information, O'Gurek explained that Dages then filed an appeal with the Office of Open Records in Harrisburg, which on Jan. 14, ruled in favor of the county, stating that the Right To Know law excludes records subject to attorney/client privileges from its definition of public records.

O'Gurek added that the county's position remains that the information that was cited in a previous meeting is privileged information that is excluded from the Right to Know law.

Dages, who was present at the meeting, commented following O'Gurek's explanation, stating that the summary of the case was "well said."

Following the meeting, Dages said that he feels that if the board can hide behind attorney/client privileges for this, then anything can be hidden.

"It (the Right To Know law) is a false wall," he said. "I think, and a lot of others think, business people think, and there is a lot of different people in different parties and different avenues of life that think that speculating as business developers is hurting private enterprise. There is no way that private business can compete with the county and here is the bad icing on the cake. Not only is business being strangled to a place that can only be able to attract business if you give them tax breaks and will leave when the tax breaks are over. So on the idea of developing something on tax revenue is a fundamental way of fighting itself. It's cancer. But the icing on the cake is they gave the contract for the real estate sales to someone from out of the county. There are a lot of brokers who can handle that. Let it happen in house. Let the money stay here."

Dages continued, saying that he doesn't think the commissioners have the case law he is requesting.

"I think there is a whole lot more going on," he said, adding that if any, he feels the commissioners have case opinion. "They've got case opinion maybe, but they don't have case law. That's why they won't show it."

Dages noted that he feels this is a Constitutional issue.

He added that he was disheartened because when he went to file the petition, there was not a category to check that the issue was about Constitutional law.

"It's kind of like boxing air, there is no venue for discussion," Dages said. "There is, but you have to be able to frame the question so it's making it very difficult for people to understand the terms or lack of terms. There is a guardrail and it's called the Constitution and this would be as absurd to ignore the Constitutional parameters because the commissioners as real estate developers is as absurd as one of our judges walking out to Hazard Square in his robe, directing traffic. Everyone would say, 'What are you doing?' Or a state trooper with his pistol and his badge going over the counter at a Dunkin' Donuts and telling the Indian manager to go clean the bathroom, and making his own change because he has a badge and a pistol."

Dages' petition provides a chronological timeline of the events that led up to the petition, and included five exhibits documenting his attempts to obtain the information.

According to the petition, "on May 6, 2010, a copy of the Constitution for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania was given to each of the Carbon County Commissioners." Members of the Constitutionalists then returned over the next few weeks to see if the board read the material.

After all commissioners said they had, the Constitutionalists asked about the constitutionality of the Packerton Yards project. At the time, O'Gurek answered, citing a case law that he did not reveal.

Since then, Dages and other members of the group have continually asked for the case law that O'Gurek cited.

The petition continues with a copy of a Sept. 23, 2010 request from Dages and the Carbon County Constitutionalists to O'Gurek, stating that the Constitutionalists are petitioning for "Redress of Grievances," and that they "demand you identify what case law you mean to justify using taxpayers millions without accountability." Their request was answered but not with the case law.

Dages then filed an appeal to Marianne Butrie, executive secretary/Right To Know officer in the county, on Nov. 18. She ruled that his request was denied. She noted that he can file a timely appeal with the Office of Open Records in Harrisburg. He did.

A copy of the Jan. 14 ruling from the Office of Open Records in Harrisburg, which states in appeals officer Audrey Buglione's findings that Dages' request is denied, was also included as an exhibit. The ruling states that it was found that the information the county cited was excluded from being public records because of attorney/client privileges.

The history preceding Dages' request dates back to 2005 when the county purchased the 59-acre Packerton Yards site in Mahoning Township and Lehighton with the plans to industrialize the site and bring around 300 jobs to the area. Commissioner Wayne Nothstein voted against the project.

Since then, the board has secured millions in state and federal grants to develop the land.

Dages feels that the project is not Constitutional because, he says, the county is directly competing with private enterprises.

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