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Elaine Labalme
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PennFuture files lawsuit against Allegheny County Health Department for violations of Pennsylvania Sunshine Act

Citizens’ testimony in official minutes scrubbed of criticism in violation of law

Pittsburgh (June 6, 2011) — Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future (PennFuture) today filed a lawsuit in the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas against the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) for violations of the Pennsylvania Sunshine Act for its failure to note the content of negative citizen comments in the official minutes. Failure to include the subject is a violation of the law.

“The Health Department’s ‘public be damned’ attitude is unacceptable in our democracy,” said Heather Sage, PennFuture’s vice president. “Apparently, the agency is happy to include the content of citizen comments when they are complimentary of the ACHD’s performance, but not when there is criticism. This is petty and mean spirited, and demonstrates, once again, the scorn with which the ACHD’s leadership, particularly Dr. Bruce Dixon, regards the citizens.

“We attempted to get this problem corrected by following the remedy permitted by the ACHD – in a letter requesting Dr. Dixon to fix the problem,” continued Sage. “But he never responded. He left us no choice but to sue to protect the rights of citizens to disagree with the ACHD and to have that disagreement noted. And in the process, he will cost the citizens of Allegheny County money, legal fees, and time – all of which could have been prevented.

“The problems behind this lawsuit are very serious, and impact on the health and welfare of every citizen of Allegheny County,” continued Sage. “PennFuture’s staff members presented testimony at the Board of Health meeting to attempt to make Dr. Dixon do his job – to protect us all from deadly pollution. But Dixon continues to do that – despite ample documentation that the failure of the ACHD and other agencies to enforce clean air laws has killed more than 14,000 people in the region over just eight years. And now he’s trying to cover up the criticism.

“No one is above the law in our society, particularly not those with whom we entrust protection of the public health,” said Sage. “We’re counting on the Allegheny County courts to make sure Dixon and the Health Department follow the laws of our state and nation.” 

A copy of the complaint filed today is available on request.

PennFuture is a statewide public interest membership organization that advances policies to protect and improve the state’s environment and economy. PennFuture’s activities include litigating cases before regulatory bodies and in local, state and federal courts, advocating and advancing legislative action on a state and federal level, public education and assisting citizens in public advocacy.


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