Borough Council Dispute Heads to Courtroom

By Matt Markham

February 27, 2012 Updated Feb 27, 2012 at 7:38 PM EDT

Montrose, PA (WBNG Binghamton) After placing restrictions on rules of public comment and recording devices in open meetings, Montrose borough backs off on what some questioned as illegal. A hearing Monday ended up as a settlement made behind closed doors.

It took a trip to the Susquehanna County Courthouse for Montrose Borough to take a step back on some of its new rules about recording public meetings.

Earlier this month, the council did not allow comment and even left when private citizens turned their cameras on.

"The borough council has an absolute right to put time, manner, and place restrictions, but we felt these were too Draconian, didn't allow people -- members of the press or citizens -- to record as they're entitled to record under the Sunshine Act," said plaintiff Deborah Barr.

President Tom Lamont and his council were discussing the use of a water hydrant in the borough, owned by a non-borough resident. That hydrant supplied water to families in Dimock Township who claim natural gas drilling tainted their wells.

Vera Scroggins was one of the people who pressed play. "It was a water issue, and I felt it was involving other parts of the county, not just the borough," Scroggins said.

After adopting a new Code of Conduct, cameras had to be unmanned, mounted on tripods, and in the back of the room. Comment was restricted to borough residents.

But in a stipulation agreed between an attorney and the borough, cameras and tripods are back in, and visible handheld recording devices can be used by anyone, and may be used while sitting down.

Despite reaching something of a deal, the borough council president had nothing to say to news cameras as he left the court house.

Craig Stevens lives in Silver Lake Township; he's the one who owns the water hydrant in the borough. "It's a start," Stevens said, reacting to the aggreement. "My problem is they covered very few things based on a media standpoint, we still have quite a few of the eighteen points still in place that have to do with private citizens."

One councilperson voted against the new Code of Conduct February 14. Four voted in favor of it, including Lamont.

Council meets again on March 5, when it agreed to sign new rules of conduct for the cameras.