WCCC trustee says he's being punished for speaking out about school mask policy

·4 min read

Sep. 18—Controversial statements that criticized a mask mandate at Westmoreland County Community College could result in the ouster of a member of the school's board of trustees.

A majority of trustees met behind closed doors this month to discuss potential censure of Doug Weimer, who publicly questioned the college's mask policy and the process that led to it being implemented.

According to emails obtained by the Tribune-Review, board president Leia Shilobod convened an executive committee meeting Sept. 8 in which at least nine of the 15 members attended to discuss Weimer's public comments, which were published Aug. 27.

"The purpose of the investigation is to determine if Mr. Weimer violated any of the college's bylaws or his fiduciary duties as a trustee and, if necessary, to recommend any appropriate action to be taken by the full board of trustees," according the email.

Weimer, who was reappointed to a six-year term on the board in 2020, said he was asked to attend the closed-door session to defend his comments, which were critical of the school's masking decision. He said his colleagues will vote on his future as a trustee in October, when he could be censured and stripped of committee assignments. A recommendation could be made to county commissioners to remove him from the board, he said.

"I am shocked over this whole thing. A meeting behind closed doors is uncalled for when there should be no restrictions about expressing my personal opinion," Weimer said.

Trustees are appointed by the county commissioners.

Commissioner Gina Cerilli Thrasher said there are no plans to remove Weimer.

"No, to my knowledge, we do not have authority," Thrasher said.

The flap arose in the days after Weimer publicly criticized the process by which the mask policy was implemented.

Weimer said trustees were informed about the mask policy at a board retreat Aug. 20, two days after it was implemented for the start of the fall semester at WCCC's Youngwood campus.

Trustees held a formal public meeting Aug. 25. No vote was taken on the mask policy. The board's next public meeting is scheduled for Oct. 27. Weimer, who opposes mask mandates, said trustees should have been informed of the policy before its implementation and suggested a formal vote was needed.

Shilobod said school bylaws permitted the college president to impose the mask mandate. She defended the policy and said the school's president and the chair of the board of trustees are the only officials permitted to make public comments about WCCC issues. She declined to discuss any actions the board is considering with regard to Weimer.

"I am shocked that a person made you aware of a confidential meeting," Shilobod said. "I am not going to discuss any confidential meetings with the press."

The committee in which Weimer's future was discussed was not open to the public nor was it advertised in advance.

The state's open meeting law allows closed-door meetings only for limited purposes, such as to discuss legal matters and personnel issues.

Melissa Melewsky, a lawyer for the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, said public agencies, such as the college's board of trustees, are required to conduct business in the open.

"This raises Sunshine Law compliance issues. There seems to have been a quorum and discussions of agency business outside a public forum," Melewsky said.

Weimer, a Republican who also serves as a member of the Hempfield board of supervisors, contends he is being muzzled and punished for speaking out about the process that led up to the mask mandate and criticism of the school's administration, not for his political views.

The school's board of trustees is made up of Republicans and Democrats.

"Now we are in a situation where I feel the calling of this meeting is for retribution for my speaking publicly, and I continue to feel I am being harassed and bullied," Weimer said. "The board of trustees is made up of a diverse group of people, and that's a strength. Unfortunately, I am beginning to find out there doesn't seem to be room for different opinions."

Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293, rcholodofsky@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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