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WALKER: Despite State Ruling, Bucks Officials Persist in Hiding Emails

For most, COVID is now a bad memory. The thing about it is, it occupied our lives for the better part of 3 years. Some lost friends and family.  Others lost their jobs and livelihoods.  To this day some struggle with mental health issues.  Many of our children struggle with social and emotional issues as well as learning loss.

For me, it was always about my kids and making sure they had a normal in-person education.  So, as I describe what has happened since August of 2021, please keep that in mind.   When school ended in June 2021, there was great hope and anticipation that when kids returned in late August it would be “back to normal.”

Our county health director, Dr. David Damsker, issued COVID Health Guidance that we could reopen the schools fully.  Masks and quarantines were not needed. That didn’t mean children or teachers couldn’t wear masks.  It meant, based on his expertise, that school would be “normal.”

However, on August 23, the COVID Health Guidance was abruptly changed for ALL children in Bucks County.  This order went to all 13 school districts via email, an email that was not sent by Dr. Damsker. And he never spoke publicly again.

I and so many other parents and children were not only disappointed, we were angry.  What was the reason? What happened?  Why did this suddenly change?  Parents all thought their kids would go back to school normally, then all of the sudden another normal school year was taken from children in Bucks County.

What took place during August 2021 didn’t sit right with me so I decided to seek answers.  As American citizens we have the right to see the emails and correspondence politicians send to each other on taxpayer funded devices.  We have a right to see how decisions are made. What I thought would be an easy question was met with stonewalling and vicious name calling by our county commissioners Diane Marsaglia and Bob Harvie.  Commissioner DiGirolamo was nonresponsive.

I put in two public Right-to-Know records requests (RTK), to our county commissioners to see how COVID guidance was created by our county health director.  I put in a RTK asking for the emails from Commissioner Marseglia’s second county email address.  I realized she had a second account from an email she sent me previously.   Stunningly, the county denied my request.   I filed an appeal to the state Office of Open Records, and I won the right to receive the emails.  You would think that would be the end of it right?  Not a chance!

The county run by majority commissioners Bob Harvie and Diane Marseglia and in consultation with the then county Attorney Joe Kahn (now running for Pennsylvania  Attorney General) decided they didn’t want to give me the records I won so they decided to take me to Common Pleas Court. Keep in mind they are doing this using OUR tax money.  Turns out their attorney didn’t file the appeal correctly so according to the court, in theory it didn’t even exist.  An average citizen, mom of three, and taxpayer doesn’t have a staff and team of lawyers like the county has access to.

When you are taken to the Court of Common Pleas you have to hire an attorney.   It was clear the one appeal was not filed correctly.   I had already won the records when the OOR made its ruling.  When I went to the hearing in June the county had hired three attorneys to fight their case.  My attorney argued the appeal wasn’t filed correctly and I already won the records and asked that they please give them to me.

Unfortunately, the judge ruled that they did not have to turn the records over without a full trial.  So, Commissioners Chair Bob Harvie is prepared to continue this in court since he has three attorneys paid for with your tax money.   All I have is myself.  The county wants a Bucks County judge to make the entire state less transparent for every resident in Pennsylvania. This is what our commissioners are doing with their legal team funded by your taxes.

COVID may be over, but in Bucks County I am still paying the price for asking for answers about how health decisions were made for OUR children.  What I want to find answers I hope no other parent ever has to deal with this again.  I have learned what local government officials will do to cover up their secret emails and lies. Take this as a cautionary tale. But also take it as an important lesson that transparency in government is a cornerstone to our democracy. A cornerstone that our current county commissioners want to take away from us.

As the recent Bucks County Courier Times editorial board noted, “Government works best in full view of the governed, but falters when something compromises the public’s trust in it.”

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