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IDA’s June 29 O’Gara contract meeting catches fire in Westmoreland County

It was ignition time when members of the public and Westmoreland County’s Industrial Development Authority (IDA) gathered this Monday evening in their English Building meeting room to approve a new purchase agreement with The O’Gara Group. The room was filled to near capacity when IDA Chairman Jimmy Latane’s hushed voice advised Authority members that the special meeting had begun.

“We can’t hear you!” said a chorus of voices from the audience. “Won’t you please speak louder!”
An effort was made to move local government’s recording microphone a little closer to the Chairman as county citizens strained their ears in an effort to hand on to every word.  The seldomly seen IDA representative from the Town of Colonial Beach, Paul Tsompanas, was in attendance, along with veteran members Dick Allison and Rebecca Gillions and Authority newcomers Stanley Dixon and Steven P. Allen. Veteran member Bryan Oliff missed the meeting in order to attend a child’s ball game.
Hearing remained a challenge, but Latane welcomed the two new members. “I hope your time on the IDA will be rewarding to you,” he stated.
Veteran Dick Allison immediately delivered a motion to move the meeting’s closed door session closer to the top of the night’s agenda but a voice from the audience rose in protest of the Authority’s penchant for secrecy.
“I’m tired of you guys going behind closed doors,” the resident commented.
Latane’s gavel banged louder than his words when he responded, “Sir, you are out of order.”
“Then let the Sheriff take me away,” the voice responded. “We are the people. Why don’t you leave this meeting open?”

The sea of people echoed the sentiment in a controlled roar of approval as the Chair again attempted to resume control.
“You’re out of order,” repeated Chairman Latane.
“You should not go behind closed doors,” the voice replied as the audience delivered its sustained round of applause.
“I am tired of being closed out,” the voice continued. “I am sorry if I have upset you, but everybody here is upset and we should all be together on this. Please tell us why O’Gara Group will be good for the people of Westmoreland.
“Nobody came to us to ask us what we wanted. If you guys think O’Gara will be such a good thing for all of us, sell it to us. Let us help you explain to others why O’Gara is going to be a good thing for our people!”
Another question from the audience addressed the manner in which the public received notice of the June 29 special meeting.
“Why was the notice not posted until 3:53 on Thursday afternoon? Is this how democracy is supposed to work?”
By then all members of the IDA had voted on Allison’s motion to expedite the meeting’s closed-door session. Latane was heard casting a “nay” vote and then announcing that Allison’s motion had carried and the closed session would very soon begin.
“This is nonsense!” exclaimed a voice from the audience.
Another resident addressed the IDA with an impromptu question. “Are you working for [County Administrator] Norm Risavi or are you an independent deliberating body?”
“Nobody is going to leave this room!” said a citizen who attempted to block the door through which the IDA members were expected to pass in order to convene the closed-door portion of the meeting.
Dixon made a motion to take the Authority into the closed portion of its meeting.
“And I say we should not allow them to go behind closed doors!” a resident exclaimed.
“ . . . .to consult with counsel regarding pending litigation . . . and if we need an officer to remove these trouble makers . . . .,” Dixon continued.
“You have representatives here from O’Gara. Bring them on and let them explain why they will be such a good thing for the people in Westmoreland!” another voice interjected above the din.
“And have the O’Gara people tell you how they’re related to DynCorp!” another voice proposed.
By then the last member of the county’s official delegation had disappeared behind a door that was not blocked. Twenty minutes later the Westmoreland officials and IDA defense attorney, John Gibney of the Thompson-McMullan’s law office in Richmond, returned to reconvene in open session.
After new and old IDA members expressed confidence that they knew what they were doing, the new O’Gara purchase contract was unanimously approved. A chorus of protests ensued, with residents complaining that the input they offered had not been entertained.
“This is not a public meeting,” Latane whispered.
“Citizens are here, and there are some in Westmoreland who are scared to sign petitions,” a voice protested.
“Is this a public hearing” queried Tsompanas. “I don’t want to sit here. These people are out of order. Mr. Chair, I call for order!” he screamed in an effort to be heard above the din.
“. . . and you’ll certainly be sued again,” predicted one voice from the crowded audience.
“. . . gestapo  ways. . .” cried someone.
“Is this 1939 all over again?” a woman questioned.
“No,” a male voice answered. “This is 1984!”
“What about the promise Mr. Noe gave us?” a resident inquired. “Didn’t he promise O’Gara wouldn’t come here if they were not wanted?”
“ . . . one thousand petition signatures mean nothing at all?” another speaker queried.
“. . . boycott their businesses,” suggested someone.
“. . . immediate injunction in the Richmond federal court!” yet another voice exclaimed.

Betsy Ficklin

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