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Londonderry Township goes to court over $85,000 in Right-To-Know requests

By Dan Miller

danmiller@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 2/7/18

Londonderry Township has asked a Dauphin County Court judge to stop what the township claims is a campaign of harassment being waged against the township by a man over the enforcing of floodplain …

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Londonderry Township goes to court over $85,000 in Right-To-Know requests

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Londonderry Township has asked a Dauphin County Court judge to stop what the township claims is a campaign of harassment being waged against the township by a man over the enforcing of floodplain ordinances on islands in the Susquehanna River.

But the defendant in the lawsuit, Glenn Harmon, says in a Facebook post responding to the township’s action that he is not among the tenants being evicted from islands in the river by a compliance agreement that was reached in 2016 between the township and island owners York Haven Power Co.

Moreover, Harmon contends that the lawsuit has “nothing to do with the islands” but that the township is using the islands issue as a smokescreen “to misdirect attention” from what Harmon says is the real objective of his multiple requests for information from the township being filed under the Right-To-Know law.

“I am not harassing the township but am trying to obtain information as allowed by law,” Harmon says in the Facebook post. “Records received have proved embarrassing, costly and even unlawful to the township and they don’t want to reveal any more of their sordid activities.”

For example, Harmon in his Facebook post refers to information he has obtained from the township through his requests pertaining to Sunset Golf Course, the Harrisburg Rugby Club, and township finances.

The township says Harmon is responsible for “the majority” of more than $85,000 that Londonderry says it has spent on Right-To-Know requests in the four months from August through mid-December.

The township in the lawsuit contends that it was “forced” to hire a part-time employee just to assist with the handling of “the unrelenting volume” of Harmon’s request and appeals.

The part-time employee has cost the township more than $9,000 from August to mid-December, and has “precluded” the township from filling two needed full-time positions “because of the expenses attendant to responding to (Harmon’s) abusive RTKL requests and appeals.”

Lawyers for the township in the lawsuit filed Jan. 31 seek a preliminary injunction to prevent Harmon from continuing to file Right-To-Know Law requests with the township.

“The defendant (Harmon) is using the legal process of filing RTKL requests with the township and appeals with the OOR (state Office of Open Records) as a tactical weapon to financially damage the township and to divert its personnel resources into doing nothing but answering defendant’s RTKL requests,” the township says in the lawsuit.

According to the lawsuit, Harmon leases a lot on the southern portion of Shelley Island, known as Bares Tip, but he has a permanent address in New Cumberland.

Harmon in his Facebook post says that he has 200-year lease for a summer cabin on Shelley Island. He has had the cottage on the island since 1969, Harmon said.

“I am not one of the 300 people required to remove my cottage and am not abusing the Right-To-Know Law as stated above and I have no reason to harass the township because of their actions involving those 300 properties,” Harmon posted.

The township in the lawsuit says that since August 2017, Harmon has filed 106 Right-To-Know Law requests with the township, and 78 appeals with the state Office of Open Records.

If Harmon is allowed to file his requests and appeals at the same rate throughout 2018, it will cost the township $250,000, or over 12 percent of the township’s total operating revenue and 3,300 employee working hours — just to address Harmon’s “abusive RTKL requests and subsequent appeals,” the township says in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit further contends that Harmon has defamed township Manager Steve Letavic by “repeatedly stating” to the Office of Open Records that Letavic “has engaged in criminal activity by perjuring himself.”

The accusation is “neither factually accurate nor supported by any evidence.”

The lawsuit also accuses Harmon of using social media to wage a “coordinated effort” with the Lake Frederick Homeowners Association to “bombard the township with RTKL requests to financially punish the township for entering into a compliance agreement” with York Haven Power Co. in 2016.

Recreational lease holders on Beshore Island and the northern portion of Shelley Island formed the association in March 2016 when details of the compliance agreement were first made public by the township.

“As a result of this coordinated effort, the township has been inundated with over 175 RTKL requests in a five-month period and 80 appeals to the OOR in a four-month period — an average of 35 requests and 20 appeals per month,” the lawsuit says.

“Upon information and belief, Glenn Harmon has engaged in this retaliatory conduct in an effort to drain the township of its financial resources, and to preclude township employees from engaging in the floodplain enforcement mandated by FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) — a perversion of the RTKL.”

Harmon calls the $85,000 estimate for complying with his requests from August through mid-December “very high,” and labels as “ridiculous” the $250,000 estimate for 2018 if Harmon is allowed to continue.

He also denied the township’s claim that he is working with the association on behalf of the people being evicted under the compliance agreement from the islands owned by York Haven Power Co., which is now owned by Cube Hydro Partners.

“I do not belong to any group or am I affiliated with any organization, nor have I attended any meetings involved in a coordinated attempt to flood the township with RTK requests,” Harmon said in the Facebook post. “The township states that I am responsible for the majority of the requests so there cannot be a coordinated effort of a group.”

The township in the lawsuit goes through the background of the past several years involving the islands, in which the township says FEMA, in the wake of flooding that occurred from Tropical Storm Lee in 2011, has “driven” a “comprehensive investigation and enforcement of (township) floodplain ordinance requirements.”

According to the lawsuit, FEMA told Londonderry Township that failure to enforce its floodplain ordinance would result in the township “no longer having access to the National Floodplain Insurance Program and would preclude the township, its residents and its businesses, from being eligible for, among other things, federally backed national flood insurance or receiving future federal aid as a result of a natural disaster.”

The lawsuit says that the township in early summer 2017 notified Harmon and other property owners and tenants on Bares Tip and Beech, Poplar and Hill islands that the township would begin enforcing FEMA’s directive, “which could ultimately result in the imposition of fines or court orders to have any non-compliant improvements removed at the owner/lessee’s expense.”

Harmon was among those that the township provided with this notice, and his “retaliatory assault against the township began thereafter,” the lawsuit says.