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Buses line up for students outside Reynolds High School.

PYMATUNING TOWNSHIP — The Reynolds school board may not have violated the Sunshine Law, but an open records attorney and Mercer County District Attorney Peter C. Acker said the board could have done more to secure the public’s trust when it filled a vacancy last month.

In November, the board accepted the resignation of board member J. Bradley Miller. Later in the meeting, the board discussed and voted to appoint Jeffrey A. Colson to fill the vacancy.

Colson already was serving on the board for a term that expired the first of December. Jason DeJulia defeated his bid for re-election by one vote on Nov. 2.

The resignation and appointment became the focus of attention during the board’s annual reorganization meeting last week, where members of the public expressed their dissatisfaction with the board’s actions.

Resident Matt Shellenbarger said he did not think the school board followed its own policies, and people are less inclined to follow policies when their own leaders don’t follow the same standards.

Tyler Clepper, another resident, agreed and said the board’s actions poorly represented the district.

Newly elected board member Rhonda Shellenbarger Williams said she knew of other people who would have been interested in applying for the vacancy.

The two actions were both listed on the meeting agenda ahead of time and were carried out during the public meeting, so there doesn’t appear to be any violation of the Sunshine Law, Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association legal counsel Melissa Melewsky said.

The school board’s policy and state law require only that vacancies must be filled within 30 days.

But even if there was no violation of the Sunshine Law, Melewsky said it was “odd” for the board to accept a resignation and fill the resulting vacancy at the same meeting, and the board could have been more transparent.

“It sounds like the law was followed, but the spirit in which the law was written wasn’t present,” Melewsky said.

Acker likewise agreed that there was no violation, and said he was contacted by James Nevant, the solicitor of the Reynolds School Board, who explained the board’s actions. Acker subsequently advised Nevant he did not see any violations.

However, Acker said the public would have wanted the opportunity to know of a board vacancy, allow interested persons to submit resumes and have those resumes discussed and voted on in a public meeting.

“In my humble opinion it would have been better if they had permitted public involvement,” Acker said.

According to an email from Nevant to Acker, Miller announced he may have to resign from the school board due to work commitments, but didn’t know for certain until the Nov. 17 meeting.

The board opted to appoint Colson due to his experience on the board and his availability. His loss by only one vote also indicated some support from the community, the email states.

Toward the end of the board’s reorganization meeting in Dec. 2, new board member DeJulia asked if the board could nullify Colson’s appointment and open the vacancy to applicants to regain the public’s trust, but board President Christopher Osborne said they couldn’t because it was not an agenda item.

When Williams asked how to get something on the agenda, Osborne said the board members could email him or the superintendent so the item could be added for the next agenda.

Melewsky said the board could take an action such as what DeJulia described, but it would still have to fall within a 30-day limit from when the vacancy was created. That deadline would fall Dec. 17.

The board could call a special meeting for that purpose, as long as it is properly advertised beforehand.

But even if it’s too late to take further action regarding this latest vacancy, Melewsky said the board could review its policies and allow for more public input when the next vacancy happens.

“They could have interviewed other candidates and maybe that would have only reaffirmed their desire to appoint (Colson), but we’ll never know now,” Melewsky said.

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Like David L. Dye on Facebook or email him at ddye@sharonherald.com.

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