When the chairman of Pequea Township’s governing body gaveled to order the most recent public meeting, the sun had risen only 19 minutes earlier and the dew was still fresh on the apples at nearby Cherry Hill Orchards.
The township office wouldn’t even open for business for another two hours.
And yet the elected supervisors, for the second time in six weeks, held a 7 a.m. meeting on Wednesday — much to the chagrin of the handful of residents who actually showed up.
“At 7 o’clock in the morning it’s difficult, as you can see, for citizens to get here,” Jackie Johns of Willow Street, one of only five residents who made it to the meeting, told the board. She and others encouraged the supervisors to pick a better time, one that would encourage more people to attend.
Don Purdum, the board chairman, said they needed to hold the special meeting for administrative reasons related to Pequea Township’s newly appointed treasurer. The issues “couldn’t wait another full week,” he said.
Purdum picked the early meeting time because it fit four of the five Republican supervisors’ schedules, he said.
Supervisor Cynthia Evans-Herr said the recent early meetings were intentional to shut her out, since Evans-Herr and Purdum often clash publicly and the supervisors know she works every morning starting at 5 a.m. She also had surgery scheduled for Wednesday.
“Nobody has meetings at 7 o’clock in the morning,” Evans-Herr said. “This is absolutely wrong. As the chair, he needs to call meetings when we’re all together.”
Setting the 7 a.m. meeting time was “absolutely not” meant to exclude residents or Evans-Herr from the meeting, Purdum said.
About 80 people attended the night meeting last month, at which the supervisors talked about the future of the police department.
The 7 a.m. meeting on Monday, July 29 lasted no longer than 10 minutes.
Wednesday’s meeting lasted about 20 minutes, much of it taken up by a back-and-forth between a resident and Purdum about next week’s meeting and the future of the police department. The supervisors also approved access for its new treasurer to some accounts and set three budget workshops for the fall.
The first two meetings were set for 9 a.m. on Oct. 15 and Oct. 29, and one 6 p.m. meeting set for Nov. 5 if necessary. Resident Meredith Cooke interjected to ask the supervisors to change one of the 9 a.m. meetings to an evening one so more people could attend. Purdum said it was precedent that these budget workshops were set for 9 a.m., so he would not change it.
The Wednesday special meeting was announced in accordance with the state’s open meetings law, the Sunshine Act, which requires meetings to be advertised in a local newspaper one day prior to the meeting.
But there are no other guidelines for scheduling meetings, said David Sanko, the executive director of the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors.
“You want to have an eye toward giving the public the ability [to be included],” Sanko added. “Each community is different. There’s not a rule book, if you will.”
He said it’s very hard for boards to find times that meet everyone’s schedules. Elsewhere in Pennsylvania, there have been times when other boards have purposely set meeting times to exclude a supervisor, which Sanko said he doesn’t think is a “good idea.”
Evans-Herr compared Pequea Township’s Board of Supervisors to the actions of the East Earl Township board in 2014, when then-chairman David Zimmerman, who now serves in the state House, and his board were criticized for hosting a meeting at inopportune hours that residents felt were meant to exclude them from public business.
Pequea Township’s board meets again on Sept. 18 at 7 p.m. at the New Danville Fire Company.