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County to furnish agenda to group

Taxpayers organization battled commissioners for a year in effort to receive a copy of meeting agenda.

Times Leader Staff Writer

WILKES-BARRE - After more than a year of contention, the Luzerne County commissioners agreed Tuesday to furnish a taxpayers' group with a folder filled with all the papers they review at each public meeting.

Jim Torbik, a spokesman for the commissioners, blamed the board's dispute with the Coalition of Luzerne County Taxpayers on miscommunication.

The commissioners thought the group wanted folders for each member who attends a meetings, Torbik said. Making multiple extra copies of the papers would be "cost prohibitive."

The papers list every motion the board plans to make. Copies are provided to the commissioners, other county officials and reporters before the start of the public meeting.

Taxpayers and others in the audience have to get by with a single-page agenda. It states the order in which motions will be made and when reports from department heads will be aired, but provides no specifics.

Torbik said the cost of copying the papers prompted Chairman Tom Makowski to refuse the coalition's latest request for the same information under the state's Right to Know Law at an April 1 commissioners meeting.

That law requires the county to let the public inspect the papers and copy them at a reasonable cost, according to both county Solicitor Richard M. Goldberg and John Feichtel, media law counsel for the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publishers Association.

Sharon Lemmons, president of the coalition, told The Times Leader last week her group's members would gladly share just one folder at each meeting so they could see what the commissioners were approving.

The group would then pay to have the papers copied for all of its members later.

"That's a new twist to it," Torbik said of Lemmons' request. After checking with the commissioners, he said they would provide at taxpayer expense a single folder to the coalition at the next meeting on April 22.

"If we were talking more than that, they (the commissioners) would have to revert back to the original position," Torbik said.

He insisted the board wasn't trying to keep the group in the dark, but to cut down on costs.

"It was never intended to be contentious," Torbik said. "They (Coalition members) have a dialogue with the taxpayers. If a single copy to a taxpayer representative further facilitates that, then that's a good thing."

Lemmons said Tuesday her group specifically requested just a single folder from the board months ago, but was turned down after it became "a matter of pride" for the commissioners.

Told she would now be getting a folder, Lemmons replied, "Terrific. We'll be there with bells on to pick it up."

David J. Ralis covers Luzerne County government.

Wednesday, April 15, 1998