UPDATE: Nutter emerged from the budget meeting armed with a City Solicitor’s opinion saying that he could brief Council members in private. (Here's the link to the opinon.)
Nutter – who ran on the promise of open and transparent government – said he saw no problem with keeping reporters out.
“There were no decisions made. This was a general discussion, which we’re allowed to have,” Nutter said.
Here’s a link to the Sunshine Act for more information. Back in May, Teri Henning, general counsel for the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association, said that briefings where no decisions were made still come under the heading of public meetings.
"The intent of the Sunshine Act is to allow the public to observe the discussions and deliberations leading up to a decision," Henning said.
A trio of reporters are outside City Council President Anna Verna's fourth floor City Hall office right now, trying to gain access to a budget briefing being led by Mayor Nutter. The reporters have been told that a quorum of Council is present, which makes the session a public meeting. But the reporters so far have been barred from entering.
Nutter said earlier this month that the city's five-year financial plan has a gap that could grow to $650 million to $850 million. The latest estimates seem to put the problem at the high end of that scale. Council has been considering ways to trim spending to help close the gap.
This is not the first time Nutter has tried to keep reporters from attending a budget briefing where a quorum of Council was present. The reporters hear the mayor's chief of staff, Clay Armbrister, is coming out to speak with them. He had little tolerance for reporters trying to crash a budget briefing in May.