Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Erie County in case of Erie Municipal Airport Authority v. Automation Devices, Inc., No. 1443-A-1972.
William G. Sesler, for appellant.
Ted J. Padden, with him Quinn, Gent, Buseck & Leemhuis, Inc., for appellee.
Judges Crumlish, Jr., Kramer, Wilkinson, Jr., Mencer, Rogers and Blatt. President Judge Bowman did not participate. Opinion by Judge Crumlish, Jr. in Support of Reversal. Judges Wilkinson and Rogers join in this Opinion.
[ 15 Pa. Commw. Page 275]
This is an appeal from a decision and order of the Court of Common Pleas of Erie County. The Erie Municipal Airport Authority (Authority) commenced an action in assumpsit against Automation Services, Inc. (Appellee) seeking to collect an "airport users fee." The Court of Common Pleas dismissed the action, and this appeal followed.
The gravamen of this appeal revolves around a special meeting of the Authority held January 27, 1972, at which time a resolution imposing an airport users fee on privately owned and operated aircraft was adopted.*fn1 On January 25, 1972, the managing director of the Erie International Airport posted notice of a special meeting of the Authority on the main entrance door of the terminal building to be held on January 27, 1972, in the Erie Maennerchor Club. At this meeting the airport users fee was adopted.
Section 2 of the Act of June 21, 1957, P.L. 392, as amended, 65 P.S. § 252 ("Right to Know Act") provides that "[e]very public meeting of a board shall be open to the public." There is no dispute that the Authority is a "board" as defined by Section 1(A) of the Right to Know Act, 65 P.S. § 251(A), and is required to hold public meetings. See Bogert v. Allentown Housing Authority, 426 Pa. 151, 231 A.2d 147 (1967). The lower court, in dismissing the Authority's action, reasoned
[ 15 Pa. Commw. Page 276]
that a meeting held at the Erie Maennerchor Club, a "private key club," does not qualify as a meeting "open to the public." We disagree.
[ 15 Pa. Commw. Page 277]
First we must emphasize that we are in accord with the reasoning expressed by the now Chief Justice Jones, in Bogert, supra, when he wrote: "Unlike other public bodies, the members of the 'authorities' are appointed and not elected and are not directly responsible for their actions to the electorate. If the elected members of public bodies are to be subjected to public disclosure of their actions, how much more important that the appointed members of public bodies be required to make such disclosure." (Emphasis in original.) 426 Pa. at 158, 159, 231 A.2d at 151. We cannot agree, however, considering carefully the record before us, that Appellee has proven that the January 27th meeting violated the Right to Know Act. Notice of the meeting was conspicuously posted on the entrance of the airport terminal's main door more than twenty-four hours before the special meeting, thus satisfying Section 3 of the Right to Know Act, 65 P.S. § 253. The fact that the meeting was held in a "private" club, alone, does not constitute a violation of Section 2, 65 P.S. § 252. Scrutinizing the record, we find no allegation that any interested party was barred due to the alleged exclusiveness of the Erie Maennerchor Club. Nor is there any evidence that the choice and use of a private club as the meeting place suggested that open participating and comment was unwelcome and/or interested citizens would be refused admission.*fn2 Public officers are presumed to have propery performed every duty and met every requirement necessary or essential to the validity of their acts. Rosenblatt v. Pennsylvania Turnpike Page 277} Commission, 398 Pa. 111, 157 A.2d 182 (1959). Therefore, we think it was incumbent upon Appellee to at least show in this case that an interested party was turned away from the meeting in question. Of course, there may be instances where the site of meetings alone may be so confining and clandestine to per se mark the meeting as private rather than public. We do not believe this is the case here.
Furthermore, assuming arguendo that the resolution passed at the Erie Maennerchor Club was voidable because it was resolved at a meeting which did not comply with the Right to Know Act, the Authority cured this deficiency by ratifying the resolution at the regular rescheduled meeting on June 15, 1972, the public character of which Appellee does not contest. The law is well settled that a quasi-municipal corporation, such as the Authority, may ratify a voidable resolution or ordinance by subsequent validation, except in the limited situation where the original action was ultra vires or beyond the scope of is corporate powers. Mateer v. Swissvale Borough, 335 Pa. 345, 8 A.2d 167 (1939); The Aspinwall-Delafield Co. v. Borough of Aspinwall, 229 Pa. 1, 77 A. 1098 (1910); Kline v. Hampton Township, 42 Pa. D. & C. 2d 49 (1967); 4 McQuillin, Municipal Corporations (3d Ed.) § 1347. The instant airport users fee was promulgated pursuant to Section 4B.(h) of the Municipality Authorities Act of 1945, Act of May 2, 1945, P.L. 382, as amended, 53 P.S. § 306B.(h), which enables the Authority to "fix, alter, charge and collect rates and other charges in the area served by its facilities at reasonable and uniform rates to be determined ...