Falls Township has tapped the former Tullytown police chief for a human resources position, though his hiring may be a violation of the state's Sunshine Law.
A township spokeswoman confirmed that Dan Doyle started his new job as director of employment operations and chief human resources officer Monday. The township already employs a human resources coordinator.
The township did not immediately respond to a request for Doyle’s resume, or questions including if the position is new, if the position was advertised internally or externally or salary information.
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Doyle retired from Tullytown last year after serving in the department since 1997, including nine years as chief.
The supervisors are scheduled to ratify his professional service agreement at their next board meeting on Sept. 25 with an effective employment date of Sept. 18, 2023, according to the spokeswoman.
But it appears that Doyle’s start date — before he is formally hired — may violate the Pennsylvania Sunshine Act, according to Melissa Melewsky, a widely recognized expert in the law and a media attorney for the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association.
Under the law, any action on official government business, including hiring, termination and other personnel matters, must be done in public, at a publicly advertised meeting where there is an opportunity for public discussion and citizens have an opportunity to comment, she said.
Melewsky pointed to a recent case with “nearly identical conduct” that took place in Northumberland County in the central part of the state.
The District Attorney’s Office there sent a violation warning letter to a school district after it confirmed an assistant superintendent started his employment with the district two weeks before a public vote on his hiring. The DA’s office warned that if it happened again criminal charges would be filed, according to the story.
Violations of the Sunshine Act carry civil and criminal penalties, but it is a “citizen-enforced law” meaning that someone has to file a complaint, Melewsky said.
A civil or criminal complaint, as in the Northumberland case, must be filed with the county civil court or county district attorney’s office within 30 days after the citizen becomes aware a violation occurred, Melewsky said.
The statute of limitation for a complaint is one year, meaning someone can report a violation up to one year after it happened, but must report it within 30 days after learning about it, Melewsky said.
She added that most often if district attorneys find a violation occurred, the entity is issued a warning letter for a first offense.
Case law also allows a government entity to “cure” a perceived Sunshine Act violation with a retroactive approval, such as what Falls proposes to do with Doyle, but that action should be used to correct an accidental violation of the law, not an intentional one, Melewsky said.
While such retroactive cures are frequently done, it does not mean the law was not violated, she added.
“It’s a complete reversal of the requirements of the Sunshine Act,” she added.
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Falls Supervisors have appeared to skirt the transparency law other times in recent years.
A professional service agreement with Bucks County Sheriff Fred Harran was signed on Dec. 14, 2022, five days before the board held the public meeting where it voted to hire Harran as a special consultant to its police department. The board meeting minutes do not indicate the approval was retroactive.
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Falls police officer William Tanner IV alleges in a civil suit against Falls that the supervisors wrongfully terminated him in October 2021, but a review of board of supervisor meeting minutes showed no public vote to terminate any police officers in the three months before and after.
A spokeswoman for the township previously responded that as a “general rule” personnel matters do not require a public vote.
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This article originally appeared on Bucks County Courier Times: Why did Falls Twp's new HR hire start the job before a public vote?