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Northwest Berks township settles lawsuit involving right-to-know request

Reading Eagle logo Reading Eagle 8/16/2022 Keith Dmochowski, Reading Eagle, Pa.

Aug. 16—The Bethel Township supervisors approved settling a lawsuit involving a right-to-know request related to a controversial proposal to rezone a tract on the Bowman farm along Route 645 for industrial development.

At a Berks County Court hearing Dec. 10, plaintiff Jonathan Andrews accused the township of failing to comply with a right-to-know request to provide texts and emails between township supervisors, officials, and residents, related to the proposed rezoning of the Bowman plot.

In March 2020, supervisors voted 2-1 against the rezoning, with Mike Graby and Robbi Lane voting no.

Prior to the vote, 700 residents signed a petition opposed to turning a traditionally agricultural tract into a complex of light industrial buildings, banks, restaurants and office space.

Other residents, some planning commission members and the owners of the Bowman land supported the change, arguing that the development could have a positive economic effect on the township.

Graby, Lane and a handful of citizens who supported the rezoning have continually sparred at township meetings since the vote.

Arguments have broken out over various issues, including the unauthorized rental of a payloader last summer, and supervisors' alleged misuse of board powers.

At least one of those issues appeared to be resolved at last week's meeting, when supervisors approved paying attorney fees of $18,500 to the plaintiff in Jonathan Andrews v. Bethel Township.

During that hearing in December, Graby testified that he wasn't sure to what extent he communicated via text and email to supervisors and other officials about the rezoning and wasn't able to produce the communications because he regularly clears his inbox.

In a judgment issued Jan. 18, Berks County Judge Jeffrey K. Sprecher ruled that township officials acted in bad faith by refusing to provide the requested documents or affidavits proving that the documents don't exist.

The township was ordered to pay a civil penalty of $1,500 as well as court and legal fees.

At a meeting last week, special counsel Andrew Adair recommended the township pay attorneys' fees of $18,500 to Bowman Farm Enterprises, LLC.

Supervisors then approved Adair's recommendation.

Adair also noted the original affidavits submitted by the township didn't meet the legal standards for right-to-know requests, but the township has submitted revised paperwork that satisfied legal requirements.

"This agreement will allow the township and the plaintiff to move on from this litigation," Adair said in a prepared statement.

Supervisors declined to comment further on the vote.

(c)2022 the Reading Eagle (Reading, Pa.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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