The Fight for the Right to Know

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Raised by 30 people in 26 months
It all started when a citizen blogger, who serves as a local government watchdog in Mt. Lebanon, PA, filed a “Right To Know.”  Elaine Gillen had filed dozens of Right To Know (RTK) requests in her 5+ years running her blog and website , seeking transparency and openness in a community where many believe big budgets are spent via secret handshakes.

But this RTK request was different.  This time, Elaine was seeking “all communications” (e-mails, documents) related to the latest iteration of Mt. Lebanon’s highly-contentious deer cull.  The e-mails would likely contain information about how particular elected officials were swayed to vote in favor of bow-hunting and sharpshooting, when previously these methods had been eschewed for many years.  Mt. Lebanon is a high-density suburb, and seeks to project an “erudite” image.  So what in the world would convince the Commissioners to vote for hunters from the woods roaming through the streets, parks, and backyards killing deer?  It was probably in the emails.

These public communications also might contain information regarding which property owners had allowed the municipality to hunt on their properties.  According to the municipality and White Buffalo, Inc. (their contracted deer killers), this taxpayer funded effort required not only the killing of deer on public lands, like golf courses and parks, but also necessitated homeowners permitting hunters to kill on private property.

Mt. Lebanon is a walking community. Our children are to abide by  Safe Walking Routes.

The Municipality of Mt. Lebanon encouraged interested parties to contact White Buffalo directly about the taxpayer funded archery program. The
August 25, 2015 Deer Management Update states:
Please do not contact Mt. Lebanon Municipality directly.

And it was here that the row began.  MTL denied Elaine’s RTK request.  They claimed it would put the private property owners who allowed the hunting at risk.  They said it wasn’t a public issue because the hunting was on private property.  And the Pennsylvania Open Records Office said to MTL: nonsense.  The threshold for withholding public information requires a serious threat of physical harm to individuals.  Further, the municipality’s argument that because previous culls had potentially been disrupted by saboteurs pouring urine around hunting sites (indicating to the deer to get the hell out of here) that now those who allowed hunting on their property now would be at risk of physical harassment had absolutely no validity.  Additionally, their contention that because the hunting was happening on private property it was not a public issue was also found to be ridiculous.  It was a taxpayer funded effort, initiated by elected officials.  It was public.  Elaine had a right to know.

On December 18th, the municipality appealed this decision, preparing to send it to ever-higher courts in order to hide their public deliberations. 

They think Elaine will give up – that they have worn her down.  She is a grandmother on Social Security, there’s no way she can afford a good lawyer.  We have the money, resources, and legal connections.  She has no chance.

But we must give Elaine a chance.  Our democracy is predicated on open-ness, and on a citizenry and press that holds those in power accountable for not abusing their power.  Please help support Elaine fighting for her right to know – for OUR right to know.  Open records must stay open.  We cannot let the well-connected and wealthy shut us out and shut the door closed on our constitutional rights to know.

Please support Elaine’s legal defense against the municipality of Mt. Lebanon, PA.
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Mt. Lebanon residents do not have the right to know where lethal weapons are being discharged in Mt. Lebanon. The PA Supreme Court will not hear my case. My request has been denied.

Petition for Allowance of Appeal is denied per Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.

I want to thank those who contributed to my legal bills when the Municipality of Mt. Lebanon first took me to Common Pleas Court of Allegheny County to appeal the PA Office of Open Records' Final Determination.

The fact that the courts, from Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas all the way to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, do not believe that Mt. Lebanon residents have the right to know where lethal weapons are being fired in their neighborhoods is quite sad. Today, we take chances going to concerts, flying, and now, walking our dogs on the streets of Mt. Lebanon seven months out of the year.
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It has been 11 months since my last update. I appealed to Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania. They affirmed the lower court's decision on December 9, 2016.

On January 6, 2017, my attorneys filed a Petition for Allowance of Appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

So now we wait to see if the State Supreme Court will hear my Right To Know case.

I believe we have the right to know where lethal weapons are being fired in our densely populated community. As it stands now, private property owners do not have to disclose to anyone that their properties are being used to kill deer. The lower courts have ruled that these private property owners have donated their properties to kill deer. The PA Office of Open Records' Final Determinations stated that no property was donated and that property owners only granted access to their properties.

My original goal was set for $4,000 to cover the costs of legal fees incurred at County level. Now, I am faced with additional legal fees for the highest court in PA. This is my choice, but I strongly believe that I will prevail and that the State Supreme Court will rule that we have the right to know where lethal weapons are being fired in our community,
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Mt. Lebanon won

Even after two final determinations in which the PA Office of Open Records granted in my favor, Judge O'Brien ruled in Mt. Lebanon's favor. Unfortunately with no legal background, residents don't stand a chance when they appeal. You have to be a lawyer to win. Forgive me for using "boilerplate language." I am not a lawyer.

Gillen Decision https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B9r_1biKte_bMG8tdkJGTXlHdkk/view?usp=sharing

Mt. Lebanon lost on the personal security issue.
See attachment. But won on the donation aspect. So call anything, no matter how small it is in value - a donation, and Mt. Lebanon can get away with it. I absolutely hate it here. Probably the municipality is planning another dinner using taxpayers' money to celebrate and will invite all the "donors, " commissioners, and the private individuals who encouraged Mt. Lebanon to take me to court.

This is a real blow for transparency in Mt. Lebanon. Unfortunately, it was a very expensive lesson for me.

I want to thank those of you who contributed to my fund. The rest of you, well...
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I got a response to my last Right To Know. https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B9r_1biKte_bd1U5aW1XdHZVTXM/view?usp=sharing

I sent this email to the president of the commission after reading the RTK response:

Kelly,
I have attached Bonnie's response to my latest RTK. I asked for the type of bait and how it was being distributed. Please read the email thread below that I had with Tony. Tony was going to get back to me, but then he changed his mind.

I also shared with you, previously, photos of piles of corn at the golf course and at McNeilly. Here they are again.

As you may remember from last year, the Allegheny County Health Department told us that it is illegal to do ground baiting. Tony claims that he didn't do this, yet will not divulge what method he did use to bait the deer.

Both he and Bonnie Cross say that it is proprietary information. As the practice seems to be here, Merriam-Webster's Dictionary is the gold standard for definitions. Here is the definition of proprietary:

1
: one that possesses, owns, or holds exclusive right to something; specifically : proprietor 1
2
: something that is used, produced, or marketed under exclusive legal right of the inventor or maker; specifically : a drug (as a patent medicine) that is protected by secrecy, patent, or copyright against free competition as to name, product, composition, or process of manufacture
3
: a business secretly owned by and run as a cover for an intelligence organization

Tony DeNicola does not hold exclusive rights to apples and corn. The formula to Coca Cola is proprietary, not apples or corn. Tony needs to prove to you and the rest of us, that he did not violate any health department codes. Can you intervene? It is ludicrous for me to file an appeal for this too.

Elaine Gillen



-----Original Message-----
From: Anthony DeNicola <tony.denicola@whitebuffaloinc.org>
To: Elaine Gillen
Cc: kmcgill; alauth
Sent: Tue, Mar 8, 2016 5:32 pm
Subject: Re: Bait

My findings are not public information.


On Tuesday, March 8, 2016, Elaine Gillen wrote:
SECOND REQUEST


Tony,

According to Susan Morgans, all the baiting has concluded in today's article in The Almanac. http://www.thealmanac.net/20160308/details_for_mt_lebanon_sharpshooting_limited_for_safety_reasons
"“The baiting has concluded,” Morgans said."
As of February 28, you were going to give it another week to sort out the best method for baiting and what type of mechanical feeder you are using to distribute the bait. I understand that it is an art, rather than a science. You were going to get back to me. Keith was going to get back to me.

I have also asked Manager Keith McGill and he was going to ask you. I hope he has followed through. Now, I read that the baiting has concluded. What kind of bait have you decided to go with and what type of mechanical feeder did you use?

Elaine Gillen

-----Original Message-----
From: Elaine Gillen
To: tony.denicola
Cc: kmcgill; alauth
Sent: Sun, Mar 6, 2016 12:54 pm
Subject: Re: Bait

Tony,

It's been a week since we last exchanged emails. Any news on what type of bait and what type of mechanical feeders that you are using? According to the permit, you have had six weeks to bait so far. Are you still sorting out the best method?

Elaine Gillen

-----Original Message-----
From: Anthony DeNicola
To: Elaine Gillen
Cc: kmcgill; alauth
Sent: Sun, Feb 28, 2016 7:53 am
Subject: Re: Bait

Elaine,

No problem at all. I am still assessing how well our mechanical feeders are working at timing deer arrival times with some different baits. We are trying to get the deer to come predictably after dark, so that is very difficult.

I will give it another week or so. We still have plenty of time before the permit expires at the end of March.

Tony

On Sunday, February 28, 2016, Elaine Gillen wrote:
Tony,

I did a quick search and found this on Field and Stream's website. http://www.fieldandstream.com/answers/quick-tips/if-you-want-deer-bait-will-drive-deer-crazy-try-grape-kool-aid-guy-dnr-gave-me-ti

"They also like peanut butter, apples, syrup, and pretty much anything else you would feed a five year old according to other posts. Good luck with the kool-aid. I'm sticking with corn."

We were told that you started baiting over a month ago. I'm am trying not to sound snarky, but sincerely, I would think you would have some idea as to what bait has worked and what mechanism you are using to distribute it by now. Do you have an estimate as to when you will have it sorted out? This week? Next week?

Respectfully,

Elaine Gillen



-----Original Message-----
From: Anthony DeNicola
To: Elaine Gillen
Cc: kmcgill; alauth
Sent: Sat, Feb 27, 2016 5:59 pm
Subject: Re: Bait

We are still sorting out the best method. Once we have better data I will let you know.

Tony

On Saturday, February 27, 2016, Elaine Gillen wrote:
Yes, thank you for your response, Tony. I can understand that bait is a regional thing. From what I've learned at commission meetings, Mt. Lebanon deer are not picky eaters. So what did you end up using here? Also, what method of distributing the bait are you using?
Thanks in advance for your clarification.

I had originally made a mistake typing Aaron's email, so I have added his correct (I hope!) email address. Sorry about that, Aaron.

Elaine Gillen


-----Original Message-----
From: Anthony DeNicola
To: Keith Mcgill
Cc: Elaine Gillen ; alauth
Sent: Fri, Feb 26, 2016 8:01 pm
Subject: Re: Bait

Keith,

Baiting is more of an art than a science. We use a multitude of options depending on what the local deer seem to prefer most, what is available, and relative cost. It can be apples, deer feed, corn, alpha pellets, etc. We place bait out at each location where we are active, primarily on private properties throughout the municipality typically several weeks in advance of getting started whether it is for capture purposes or for lethal management programs.

I hope this helps,

Tony

On Fri, Feb 26, 2016 at 2:35 PM, Keith Mcgill wrote:
Good afternoon Elaine,

Aaron did provide a response and indicated that someone from White Buffalo would be a better source to provide a response. I am copying Tony DeNicola on this response. I'm sure Tony can provide a response.

Keith

On Fri, Feb 26, 2016 at 2:27 PM, Elaine Gillen wrote:
Keith,

Were you able to get in touch with Aaron or Mike concerning my bait questions? What kind of bait and how is it being distributed?

Elaine Gillen

--

As I feared, Mt. Lebanon is getting more and more secretive. Now, we aren't permitted to know anything about the bait that we taxpayers funded.

I was hoping to curb the secrets and the corruption, but as far as our commissioners go, ignorance is bliss.

Mt. Lebanon, as I originally stated, this isn't about killing deer. It is about the downward spiral our commissioners are taking us, with reckless spending, and back room deals.

Please help me fight the giant.

Elaine
McNeilly Park
Golf Course
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$1,700 of $4,000 goal

Raised by 30 people in 26 months
Created December 20, 2015
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thanks for doing what we all know is the right thing to do. When I'm retired and have 5 minutes time during the day I'll be right there with you.

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