Council Hears Public Concerns, Discusses Adding Additional Information to Meeting Agendas

April 18, 2023

WARREN, Pa. – In an effort to be more transparent, Warren City Council discussed ways to improve its meeting agendas to help keep the public more informed during Monday’s meeting.

This comes on the heels of March’s council meeting, where local business owners weren’t advised about an agreement between the city and Hudson Companies, the group building Eagles Crest at the corner of Pennsylvania Ave. and Liberty Street, to lease three parcels, separately, from Aug. 1, 2023, through April 1, 2024.

The current format for meeting agendas as they are posted to the City’s website is as a pdf file, with each agenda item listed in an outline. Typically, only one sentence is provided which describes the general topic of the agenda item.

A screenshot of the April 17, 2023, Warren City Council agenda as it appears on the City website.

The agreement impacts local businesses in the area, including Allegheny Outfitters and Bent Run Brewing Co, and others.

“As representatives of a much larger group of people and businesses, we’re asking for a voice, and if that’s through your more information for the agenda items, that’s terrific,” said Phil Caudill, who, along with his wife Denise, own Bent Run. “One thing that we would like to ask is that the meetings remain online for public viewing. Some of us without great memories need to go back and look at those.”

Piper VanOrd, owner of Allegheny Outfitters, continued to express her displeasure with how the council went about its approval with Hudson and suggested that small businesses have a seat at the table with the city when discussing issues that will impact local businesses.

“Your small businesses are leery of what our city has planned and when the rug will get pulled out from under them,” Van Ord said. “I will never understand why you wouldn’t harness all your energy from these small businesses. And I’m talking about all of them. Bring them together around the game, get their ideas, get their concerns, and make them a priority.”

Council addressed three specific issues in regard to making more information available on its agendas.

• A description of what is being considered, including an addition to an agenda item that would give a brief description of what it entails.
• Cost amount, if money is being spent.
• Public access documents, if appropriate and available.

“I’m sitting here looking at it, and I’m thinking maybe we could do a bracket off each topic, a brief summary on what each item is,” said Councilman Phil Gilbert. “And if we can’t, say it can’t be discussed because of XYZ. That might be the easiest solution going forward. Those are just my initial thoughts.”

Along with Caudill and VanOrd, Jane Dunshie was another member of the public that expressed concern regarding the releasing of information to the public, but also, optimism that steps are being taken to address it.

“Kudos to taking a look at the agenda so the public has a greater idea of what you may speak to,” Dunshie said. “I’ve gone to a lot of meetings, and I began to have an impression that the city council seemed to take a default position that if it didn’t have to be revealed, it wouldn’t be. Is that an overstatement? Surely. Is this true many times, I think yes.

“I hope that from what you said that that is being addressed. I would like to suggest, whenever possible, that if there is a fork in the road, you take the one that is more revealing. That you share as much as you can as broadly as you can. Doesn’t help with goodwill from the public to feel like they are denied access to information.”

Councilman John Wortman appreciated the feedback and acknowledged that, as a council, they can do more to better inform the public.

“Adding these things would make it easier for our residents to participate in civic life,” Wortman said, a sentiment echoed by fellow councilmembers.

“We’re always looking for ways to foster more engagement,” said Councilman Jared Villella. “We recognize there is an active role citizens must take.”

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