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State Turnpike Commission Under Scrutiny For Making Votes With Minimal Discussion Or Debate

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CAROLYN KASTER
/
AP

On today’s program: The state’s Turnpike Commission votes in public, but a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette investigation found its meetings last, on average, 12 minutes with little discussion among commissioners, which frustrates some state legislators; while COVID-19 vaccinations are more accessible than ever, language barriers still create difficulties; and the Penguins are in the first round of playoffs, and will compete against the New York Islanders tonight.

Lawmakers, open records advocates want the Turnpike Commission to hold more public discussion
(0:00 — 7:34)

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission manages the toll road that runs from the Ohio to New Jersey borders. In the last five years, commissioners conducted hundreds of votes, approved $2 billion dollars in operating and capital budgets for the upcoming year, and laid off hundreds of workers.

A new investigation from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette found that, on average, meetings only last about 12 minutes, often with little or no public discussion or dissent.

“This is something that percolated up regarding a concern over the level of transparency that was brought to our attention at the Post-Gazette,” says reporter Jonathan Silver. “The idea of public deliberation is considered vital by the general assembly and where deliberation [of the commission] actually occurs is an excellent question. I don’t know that I have a great answer to it other than to say that it certainly does not occur at the public meetings,” says Silver.

Silver says the commission is technically following the state’s Sunshine Act, which mandates that deliberations with a quorum of members be conducted in public. The Turnpike Commission will have executive sessions with three or fewer members. However, critics question if the commission is violating the spirit of the Sunshine Act.

Silver says some open government advocates and legislators feel these private deliberations remove the opportunity for the public to be involved in those discussions, or at least hear how issues are being considered.

Language barriers continue to make COVID-19 vaccinations difficult for some
(7:41 — 11:54)

Despite ample supply of the COVID-19 vaccine, on average, more than 100 Allegheny County residents are infected with the coronavirus every day. In addition to vaccine hesitancy, barriers to health care prevent people from getting immunized.

90.5 WESA’s Sarah Boden reports for some, that barrier is language.

The Penguins have a shot at winning the Stanley Cup
(11:58 — 18:00)

The Pens won their division in the regular season, and will visit the New York Islanders this evening for game three of their best of seven Stanley Cup playoffs series. So far, the teams are tied at a game apiece.

Rob Rossi, senior writer for The Athletic covering the Penguins and the NHL, says he’s not surprised this is how the team’s season is going.

“The Penguins have shown this year that they’ve figured out how to win against the Islanders, how to create against the Islanders, which they hadn’t done as well in the past, and so I think if the Penguins are gonna be in for a long run, people better buckle up and get ready,” says Rossi. “The series is probably gonna drag out a little bit, and you might want to keep some Pepto Bismol nearby.”

Rossi says the Penguins were written off by many early in the season, but his prediction is the team will return from playing the Islanders with two wins and two losses.

The Penguins will play the New York Islanders tonight at 7 p.m.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.

Kevin Gavin is the host of WESA's news interview program "The Confluence." He is a native Pittsburgher and served as news director for 90.5 WDUQ for 34 years. Since the sale of the radio station by Duquesne University to Pittsburgh EPM, Inc. (now Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Corp.), he served as Executive Producer of Special News Projects prior to being named as host of "The Confluence" five years ago. kgavin@wesa.fm
Marylee is the editor/producer of The Confluence, the daily public affairs show on WESA. She got her start in journalism at The Daily Reveille and KLSU while attending Louisiana State University. She took her passion for audio journalism to UC Berkeley's graduate program and worked in public radio at WPR in Madison, WI, and WOSU in Columbus, Ohio.
Laura Tsutsui is a producer for The Confluence, WESA's morning news show. Previously, she reported on the San Joaquin Valley with the NPR affiliate station in her hometown of Fresno, California. She can be reached at ltsutsui@wesa.fm.
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