City Council members are right now gathered in a closed-door City Hall meeting and refusing to let reporters come inside. Mayor Nutter briefed Council leaders earlier today on budget issues so Council members could be discussing that. There's no way to know for sure since we're locked out. Reporters gathered outside the meeting believe there is a quorum of Council members present, which means the meeting must be open to the public, according to state law.
Tony Radwanski, an aide to City Council President Anna Verna, told reporters the meeting is about how Council will hear public testimony on the city budget during upcoming hearings. There is no provision in the state's Sunshine Act -- which covers public records and open meetings -- to close a meeting so public officials can discuss how to run hearings.
We've been down this road before. Mayor Nutter last fall shut reporters out of meetings where he briefed a majority of Council members about the city's budget woes. Nutter insisted he had the right to hold secret meetings -- one had an armed guard posted at the door -- because Council was taking no action on the budget at the time.
A Common Pleas Court judge later sided with Nutter when the Daily News and Inquirer went to court in November, asking for access to the meetings. The judge's ruling said the newspapers had not presented any evidence about what went on at meetings where reporters were not allowed attend. We did not make up that last line.
UPDATE, 4:10 pm: After the meeting, Verna told reporters the Council members had debated whether to hold hearings on the city budget out in their districts rather than just City Hall. There was no debate about the budget itself, she insisted, because Council has no updated information on the finances. Verna seemed surprised by the questions about closing the meeting. "If that is against the law, it's news to me," she said.