Local borough withholds public documents as revolving door, legal issues persist

HOMESTEAD, Pa. — A local borough has denied Channel 11′s request for numerous public documents, amid an ongoing federal lawsuit and at least one reported firing.

This week, Channel 11 filed an appeal with the PA Office of Open Records, after Homestead Borough Interim Manager Vanessa McCarthy-Johnson denied our Right-to-Know request for public meeting minutes dated from August to November of this year.

McCarthy-Johnson, who is at least the third person to serve in the borough manager role this year, told us that the documents have “not been accepted by Council and cannot be released.”

Our appeal is now being investigated by the Office of Open Records, with a determination expected to be made within 30 days.

Speaking generally, however,  Executive Director Erik Arneson told us that “under the Right-to-Know law, even if minutes are not approved, they can only be withheld until the next regularly scheduled meeting, and then even the draft minutes become public records.”

We received the following response from the borough’s solicitor, Sam Dalfonso:

“Our office has received notice of an Appeal filed regarding the right to know to request asking for minutes of Borough Council meetings for a period of time from July 2020 through November 2020. Our office was just recently appointed Solicitor for the Borough and we are in the process reviewing the initial request and the subsequent response from the Borough. Once our review of all the pertinent information is complete we will respond to the Appeal accordingly. We look forward to working with requester through this process.”

Channel 11 learned that Dalfonso was appointed after the previous solicitor was reportedly fired in recent weeks. That action comes after a council president was also appointed and fired this year, along with former borough manager Lauren Zang.

We uncovered in October that Zang filed a federal lawsuit against the borough and several leaders, claiming she was fired for being a whistleblower.

That suit, which continues to play out in federal court, alleged misconduct among borough officials.

A subsequent filing on behalf of the borough denied numerous claims within the suit, with “strict proof thereof demanded at time of trial.”

Federal records indicate that a case management conference between parties is set to take place next month.