Phoenixville School Board delays waiving fee for town hall at school

U.S. Rep. Ryan Costello
U.S. Rep. Ryan Costello

PHOENIXVILLE >> Conflicting information over whether a proposed town hall meeting at Phoenixville Area High School would be political in nature forced officials to hold off on granting a request to waive the fee associated with using the space.

At the Feb. 9 workshop meeting, the school board debated whether to approve an exception of use of school facilities request in order for a constituent group to host a town hall meeting with U.S. Congressman Ryan Costello, R-6th Dist., in the Phoenixville Area High School auditorium Feb. 25. It’s unclear what group made the initial request. By allowing the exception, the board would waive the requisite fee associated with using the facility.

“We’ll need to talk as a committee when things like this come up in the future, what’s going to cause us to want to waive the fees or not waive the fees,” said board member Eric Daugherty. “Essentially where we came down was recommending that we have a principle, we don’t need a policy, but if it is serving our taxpayers, and it’s apolitical in nature, then I think we’re willing to waive the fees.”

Originally, the town hall had been described as apolitical in nature. Costello had been invited but had not agreed to attend the meeting. “His staff said provide us some dates and a place to go and we’ll see if the congressman is available,” said board Vice President J. Kenneth Butera.

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However, at Thursday’s board meeting, officials said new information had come to light that questioned just how apolitical the meeting would actually be. Despite the conflicting information, board member Lisa Longo moved to waive the fee anyway but couldn’t find a second board member to support her and the motion died. Given the fact that board members Renee Pfender, Daniel Cushing and Butera were absent for that meeting, the board then agreed with the recommendation by board President Kevin Pattinson to table the decision until the March 9 workshop meeting to allow the full board to presumably decide whether to retroactively waive the fee.

“The board believes congresspersons should be able to meet with their constituents when it is nonpolitical,” Superintendent Alan Fegley said Thursday. “And when that takes place we do not charge fees. Nonpolitical means they’re there to give information out.”

When it’s political, he said, such as when they are running for office and holding an event to rally supporters, then the district charges fees.

“It was presented as a nonpolitical event,” he said. “We’re fine waiving fees if it is nonpolitical. We’ve also now been told that it is a political event. We need to get more information.”

The district is not stopping the event from taking place, Fegley made clear. It’s simply charging the group hosting the event the fee until the board can determine whether the event was political in nature.

Board members fell on both sides of the issue during the workshop meeting.

Pattinson said that when an event involves an elected official they should pay the fee regardless of why they are using the space. He said that he doesn’t believe you can have a non-political event involving a politician and stated that he has always voted to waive the use fee for community events.

“To me, any representative, state or federal, I believe they are flush with money,” said Pattinson, who was referring to all events and not just the one proposed for Feb. 25. “And I don’t see any reason that we should excuse the payment for them.”

“This is citizens looking for an opportunity to have a forum, a venue to speak with their congressman that they otherwise may not have,” said Butera. “It’s something that may draw a rather large crowd. And finding that type of venue where everybody feels safe and secure I think is hard to come by.”