Lawsuit Alleging Sunshine Act Violations by New Central Bucks School Board Tells Only Half the Story

A chaotic exit by the outgoing Republican board majority sabotaged the first meeting of the newly elected board.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

After Central Bucks School District voters elected a new Democratic school board majority in November, kicking to the curb embattled (now former) board president Dana Hunter and rejecting four other Moms for Liberty-backed candidates, the outgoing Republican majority played the role of sore losers and wouldn’t let Democrats help craft the agenda for the December meeting where there would be a transfer of power.

As a result, once Karen Smith and the new board majority were sworn in, the meeting agenda was amended due to exigent circumstances. Now two local Republicans are crying foul.

A lawsuit alleging Sunshine Act violations was filed against the Central Bucks School District on Jan. 3, along with the filing of a Writ of Summons filed on behalf of Vonna Dearmond.

Assertions in the complaint allege the new board did not provide the community with an accurate agenda 24 hours prior to the meeting and engaged in other procedural shortcomings regarding the retention of a new solicitor, the suspension of policies, the cessation of an appeal related to the new redistricting voting map, and issues concerning the severance package for the former school district superintendent, Abram Lucabaugh.

The absence of those agenda items was not for lack of trying.

“Karen [Smith] asked for it to be included on the agenda,” said CBSD board solicitor David F. Conn. “The former board president refused. She specifically said, “Please add these four items.”

“The agenda was created by Dana Hunter and Leigh Vlasblom for the December 4th business meeting, even though neither of them were going to be entitled to vote at that meeting,” added Conn.

Conn also said he asked acting superintendent Chuck Malone to include a footnote on the December agenda regarding the four items for the specific purpose of providing public notice, however the request was not honored.

READ: Is There a ‘Stop the Steal’ Movement Brewing in Central Bucks School District?

“Karen did everything conceivable to get these issues out in front of the public,” Conn said, and pointed to media coverage of that attempt.

One item in dispute, the appeal of the district’s new three region voting map, required immediate action to comply with deadlines set by the court.

“We had a ticking clock. The Commonwealth Court doesn’t care about the Sunshine Act. The Commonwealth Court’s deadlines are going to keep rolling,” Conn said.

Plaintiffs and Central Bucks School District residents John Callaghan and Karen Vecchione, represented by J. Chadwick Schnee of Lititz, were seeking a declaratory judgment and injunctive relief for alleged Sunshine Act violations that occurred at the December 4 board meeting following the swearing in of new board members. Bucks County Judge Jeffrey G. Trauger denied Schnee’s motion Tuesday for an injunction that stated “the purpose of a preliminary injunction is ‘the avoidance of irreparable injury or gross injustice until the legality of the challenged action can be determined.’”

Harrisburg-based attorney Joy Ramsingh, who specializes in Sunshine Act and Right-to-Know litigation, took a look at the complaint against the district.

“Sunshine Act violations are difficult to prove,” she said and noted that transition periods can be tough. “And then, of course, there are some things that are uncommon and you just can’t really plan for.”

Control of the school board, previously held by far-right Republicans, shifted to Democrats following the November 7 municipal election. Originally scheduled for Tuesday, the Central Bucks board meeting was moved to Thursday due to severe weather.

Supposed Sunshine Act accusations were brought up during public comment by local Republicans opposed to the new Democratic board majority.

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Jenny Stephens

Jenny Stephens

Jenny Stephens is a freelance journalist who has written for a variety of publications, including The Reporter. An avid collector of all things vintage, she resides in the Philadelphia area.

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