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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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UPDATE: Bucks County Mom Wins Partial Victory in Open Records Case Over COVID Rules

Bucks County mom Megan Brock won a partial victory over the county government in her open records case Friday before a Common Pleas judge.

Brock, of Richboro, is seeking emails from August 2021, when the county suddenly overrode COVID-19 guidance issued by its own Health Department Director, Dr. David Damsker. He said the science supported more parent-friendly, less-restrictive policies, a view confirmed in the following months. But he was overruled by Bucks County bureaucrats who imposed stricter state guidelines for masking, lockdowns and vaccinations, all unsupported by science.

The state Office of Open Records has already ordered the county to turn emails and other correspondence over to Brock, but Bucks County sued in an attempt to keep information about how they came to the override decision secret from the public. They argued Brock was not entitled to the records, despite the OOR ruling in her favor.

The county claimed the records were either attorney-client privilege or part of a “pre-decisional” process and therefore not subject to the right-to-know act.

Judge Denise Bowman heard the case and reviewed the records in her chambers. She ruled partly in favor of Brock and ordered the county to turn over some of the requested records and to pay her lawyers $1,500.

But the judge also found that the county had the right to keep some records private.

James O’Malley, a spokesman for the county, said the county’s lawyers were still in the process of reviewing the ruling on Friday evening.

After the ruling, Brock said, “This was a win for every person in Bucks County, regardless of political affiliation. Government transparency is a critical component of our constitutional republic. No one should be abused by their government or have their weaponized against them for simply doing their due diligence as a responsible citizen.

“Our kids have been thrown into crisis due to the harsh Covid-19 lockdowns and prolonged school closures. They deserve answers as to why and how these decisions were made, so that we can do better and learn from the mistakes of the past,” said Brock.

“I’m so thankful for this outcome and I can’t adequately express my gratitude to Judicial Watch and my attorneys, Chad Schnee and Meredith DiLiberto, for their exceptional representation,” she added.

Schnee said, “This decision was a victory for accountability and transparency, and we are very pleased that the judge imposed the maximum civil penalty allowed under the Right-to-Know Law.”

Pat Poprik, chair of the Bucks County Republicans also commented, calling it “a clear victory for transparency and the right of citizens to seek answers from those who should be representing them”.

“For nearly a year now, Democrats Bob Harvie and Diane Ellis-Marseglia have been using county resources to overrule decisions by the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records in order to hide communications and documents generated when the county’s guidance for schools related to COVID suddenly changed in the midst of the pandemic.  After a review of the hidden documents, the court sided with Brock.

“Pamela Van Blunk, the county controller, called the litigation the county brought against Brock a ‘waste of taxpayer dollars. Harvie and Ellis-Marseglia are irresponsibly spending taxpayers’ money to hide communications that the public—including Brock—have a right to see,'” said Poprik.

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