[PACapitalChapter] Letter from PA Department of Labor

Carlton Anne Cook Walker attorneywalker at gmail.com
Sun Apr 21 22:43:47 UTC 2019

Here is the letter from Pennsylvania Department of Labor Secretary Oleksiak:

From: Oleksiak, Jerry [mailto:wgoleksiak at pa.gov]

Sent: Friday, April 5, 2019 5:19 PM
To: Drenth, Joe; Hyde, Ryan; Bartelmay, MJ; Thomas Caulfield; Conyers,
Liza; Raymond Hoover; Kiel, Michael; Donald Rhoten; John Tague

Cc: Lantzy, Catherine (LI-OCC)

Subject: RE: [External] Demand for an Emergency SBVR Meeting


As you are aware, there are many issues revolving around OVR, and I wanted
to provide updates on where we are with some of those issues, as well as
express some concerns:

1. Misinformation: These are challenging times for OVR while we work to
address the current fiscal crisis and we work to do all we can to maintain
the level of services our customers deserve. In my role as Secretary of the
Department and Chairperson of the Board, the staff and I have always been
and will continue to be open and transparent with the Board and Board
members. From the start, we have clearly communicated about the difficult
decisions ahead, and we have been open about possible changes that might be
needed to maintain the viability of our programs and to maintain the level
of services we provide. The ONLY decision that has been made thus far is to
begin the process of closing the Order of Selection. This was made by the
Board after a full and open background discussion on a conference call and
after a full and open presentation at the public board meeting. It was a
unanimous decision.

2. Merger of BBVS and BVRS: I was particularly concerned with the speed at
which misinformation spread regarding this, and I have been confused by the
response to the clarification I provided regarding the inaccuracy of this.
At no time did anyone, either from the Board or outside the Board, seek
clarification or confirmation from me or from Acting Executive Director
Ryan Hyde about this issue. If that had occurred some of the
misunderstanding around this issue might have been avoided.

Let me also be clear; I understand the relevant law. I also understand what
had become standard practice over the years prior to my appointment as
Secretary. Within that context, I have worked to make the meetings more
relevant, more valuable, more efficient, and more transparent. We have
sought the Board’s approval for changes affecting the delivery of services
to customers and will continue to do so where the law and our practice

3. By-Law Subcommittee meeting: As you know, there was no report on the
actions of this subcommittee at the last Board meeting. The meeting was
postponed after counsel realized that, with two recent resignations from
the Board, the committee was comprised of a quorum of the board. As you
also know, all official action and deliberations by a quorum of the members
must take place at a public meeting. Consequently, to ensure that the
subcommittee does not constitute a quorum of the board, one volunteer from
the committee needs to step down. The other option is that the subcommittee
convene only after another member is appointed to the Board. Cathy Lantzy
will follow-up with those who are on the subcommittee.

4. Roll of the Board: Since questions regarding the role of the State Board
continue to arise, as well as questions about my understanding of that
role, I would be happy to arrange a closed working executive session and
dinner the evening before the June Board meeting in Wilkes-Barre to discuss
this issue.

While the board does have the responsibility for establishing the
philosophy, mission, and goals of the agency, as well as establishing
policies regarding the development and delivery of services, it is not
responsible for the day to day operations of the agency. That function has
always been delegated to the secretary of L&I. It simply isn’t practical to
assign an undertaking that requires the dedication of multiple professional
staff who are essentially “on-call” 24-7 to a volunteer board that is only
required to meet four times a year. Exploring options relating to possible
solutions to the current fiscal situation does not require permission of
the board. The exploration of all solutions will allow me and our staff to
present well researched options to the Board at the appropriate time, as
you should expect.

There was also a demand for an emergency SBVR meeting. Section 4 of the
State Vocational Rehabilitation Act of 1988 specifically provides that
special meetings of the board may be called by the chairperson or called
upon the presentation of a resolution of three members of the board. No
individual Board member has the power to demand a meeting.

5. Agenda: I am happy to add the discussion of the concept of merger of the
bureaus to the next meeting’s agenda. Board members will have the
opportunity to discuss any concerns they may have. We will, as requested,
allot 30 minutes, but we will take whatever time the Board deems necessary
beyond that. However, I will follow the procedures we have established and
as Chairperson of the Board, I will preside over the meeting. I will also
preside over any discussion the Board has – on this or any other topic
before us.

6. Sunshine Act: As a reminder, all official action and deliberations by a
quorum of the members of the board must take place at a public meeting.
This includes deliberation via email. While you can communicate your
opinions, or share information with the other Board members, Board members
must be careful not to engage in a discussion of agency business. To do so
is a violation of the Sunshine Act.

As I stated previously and as I have shown in practice, this administration
has prioritized the OVR Board and values its dedication to the disability
community. I share that dedication. We have moved forward to ensure that
Board members were appointed to fill vacancies; we have had working
sessions prior to Board meetings; we have made sure that Board members were
provided with the information necessary to allow members to make educated
decisions; and we have implemented procedures to ensure that the meetings
are carried out in an orderly, productive fashion. I am proud of the work
we have done together.

The Department continues to address the current fiscal situation. This
entails regular meetings, continuous research, constant exploration, and
evaluation of potential solutions, all done by a hard-working, dedicated
staff. The Department has not operated behind closed doors, has not tried
to hide anything, and has not instituted any type of gag order. It simply
isn’t practical to inform the Board of every meeting that is scheduled or
every potential solution that is being considered.

Thank you for taking the time to consider the issues I’ve presented here.
Thank you as well for the service you provide to the Commonwealth in your
role as a member of the OVR Board.

Jerry Oleksiak

W. Gerard Oleksiak

Secretary, Department of Labor and Industry

651 Boas Street, Room 1700

Harrisburg, PA 17121-0750

(o) 717-705-2630

(c) 717-265-5765

Carlton Anne Cook Walker
Attorney at Law
BEAR--Blindness Education and Advocacy Resources
Teacher of Students with Blindness/Low Vision
President, National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC)
101 Kelly Drive
Carlisle, PA   17015
Voice: 717-658-9894
Twitter: braillemom

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