May. 08, 2024

HARRISBURG – Rep. David Maloney’s (R-Berks) legal research of Pennsylvania law reveals that the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s “appointment” of Steve Smith as executive director on April 29 was in violation of state law.

“The accolades and self-aggrandizement that has been appearing in the media regarding this ‘promotion’ may be premature,” Maloney said.

Today, Maloney, Republican chair of the House Game and Fisheries Committee, sent the following letter to Gov. Josh Shapiro and Office of Administration Secretary Neil Weaver:

Based on the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s (PGC) press release on April 30, 2024, available on the Commission’s publicly accessible website, the PGC has continued its series of unethical acts. The press release states:

Stephen Smith, who has served as deputy executive director since February, was appointed to his new role Monday by the Board of Game Commissioners, which convened in executive session.  

There is no discussion of a vote taking place at an open meeting. There’s no openness and transparency. The Commission’s actions, by appointing the underling of the now disgraced Bryan Burhans into the position behind closed doors, continue to represent a corrupt internal culture. It is, to say the least, an inauspicious beginning to what should have been a grand opportunity.

Here is my concern in a nutshell. Pennsylvania’s Sunshine Act provides that an executive session can be held “[t]o discuss any matter involving the ... appointment ... of any specific prospective public officer or employee or current public officer or employee employed or appointed by the agency.” 65 Pa.C.S. § 708(a)(1). However, “[o]fficial action on discussions held pursuant to subsection (a) shall be taken at an open meeting.” 65 Pa.C.S. § 708(c) (emphasis in bold added).

The Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, Governor’s Center for Local Government Services, publishes a document entitled “Open Meetings | The Sunshine Act | Fifth Edition | July 2022.” An excerpt of this document is attached. On page 5, it notes executive sessions to discuss employment and appointment-related matters but clearly provides that “[w]hile discussions on employment-related matters may take place in executive sessions, final votes must still take place at public meetings.”

Setting aside, for the moment, the Sunshine Act and the corresponding penalties (see 65 Pa.C.S. § 714), as well as the language of the statute voiding acts taken during an unauthorized meeting, the message the PGC has sent to the sportsmen and sportswomen of Pennsylvania is absolutely wrong. Part of the perception problem faced by the PGC is that its culture seems to work against the people whose license fees pay its expenses. Handling this appointment in executive session, with no interview or consideration of other potential candidates, or input from our hunters and trappers, does nothing to help reform the Commission’s image or internal culture.

In short, the Commission must atone for their actions. My suggestion is that the Commission has a series of open meetings to consider the relative merits of candidates for the position of executive director. The process of determining the Commission’s Executive Director must be seen as valid and in compliance with both the law and the highest standards of open and transparent government.

Recognizing and addressing this wrong is a start in the right direction. This is not the end of the self-reflection necessary to inspire the needed reforms within the Commission. It’s time to make a change, and my door is open to help the Game Commission return to its guiding principles. Our sportsmen and women deserve no less.

Representative David Maloney
130th District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives

Media Contact: Charles Lardner