PITTSBURGH — The ACLU of Pennsylvania has filed a lawsuit against the McKeesport City Council to protect residents’ right to public participation in the city council meetings. On January 6, McKeesport residents and members of Take Action Mon Valley were denied the ability to attend, both in person and virtually, a meeting of the McKeesport City Council in violation of the Sunshine Act. 

Residents had intended to address a potential violation of their rights by McKeesport police during the search for a shooting suspect in December. Take Action Mon Valley had publicly organized a number of residents to share oral comments on the issue. In anticipation of their arrival, the city council implemented “COVID procedures” and closed the meeting to the public, denying any form of public observation and participation.

“The right of the public to participate in government affairs is a cornerstone of our democracy. There is no excuse for the McKeesport City Council to limit that fundamental right of city residents,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director at the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “Other municipalities have been able to safely provide for public access to council meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic. McKeesport City Council must find a way to follow the lead of these other municipalities and allow safe, real-time access to meetings.”

The ACLU of Pennsylvania sent the McKeesport City Council a letter in January detailing legal concerns with both the closure of the meeting and the inability to provide comments during the meeting, but the council has failed to provide assurance that it plans to follow the Pennsylvania Sunshine Act and accommodate public participation for future meetings. 

“Canceling the January meeting was a clear response to a Black organization organizing Black people to show up at the meeting and share their voices and concerns regarding police misconduct,” said Fawn Walker-Montgomery, executive director of Take Action Mon Valley. “They knew that we were coming and chose to hide.”

With the city council's next meeting scheduled for Wednesday, the ACLU of Pennsylvania is asking the court to ensure that McKeesport residents have meaningful access to the meeting, including via online video conferencing; that they can comment on issues not on the agenda; and that all comments are reflected in the minutes.

You can find a copy of the lawsuit here.