Verbal Tussle Concludes Schuylkill County Commissioners Meeting
Kinda like how sports teams seem to bring their best when the sun goes down and the lights are on in the stadium, the characters at Wednesday’s prime time Schuylkill County Commissioners meeting were in rare – even for them – form.
As combative as the regular meeting was, the fireworks really got set off at the end of the Commissioners work session meeting. And those theatrics continued into the County Salary Board meeting held right afterward.
Casey, Hetherington Spar Over Schuylkill Commissioners Meeting Adjournment
Just seconds after Commissioners chairman Boots Hetherington gaveled the work session meeting into adjournment, Schuylkill County Clerk of Courts Maria Casey jumped on the line hoping to get in a few words during the second Public Comment portion of the meeting.
But Boots wasn’t having it and told her she was too late. He said the meeting was adjourned and told Casey she couldn’t speak.
That didn’t sit well with Casey who objected to Hetherington’s tone in denying her chance to speak.
“You sound like Adolf Hitler,” snapped Casey. “You can not somehow block me and get away with it. Let me make my comment.”
Casey and Hetherington have been at odds for months now and the Clerk of Courts accuses the new Commissioners chair of running cover for the embattled Commissioner George Halcovage. She’s also objected to the way in which Hetherington conducts these weekly meetings since he started holding the gavel after Halcovage stepped aside as chairman.
Notably, Casey objects to the splitting of Public Comment periods. Now, there’s one at the beginning dealing with items on that meeting’s Agenda and a second session with a limitless topic range. Previously, there was just one Public Comment portion near the beginning of a meeting.
Recently, Hetherington tried to put the muzzle on frequent commentators during the second Public Comment session but has backed off that effort of late.
Blocked or Zoom Trouble?
On Wednesday however, was a whole new scenario.
In the heat of the moment, Casey claimed she was blocked and couldn’t access the meeting on Zoom. Hetherington said the Commissioners didn’t block her in any way.
“I was blocked. I tried to get in,” Casey said in the contentious back-and-forth.
She insisted that she be allowed to speak even though it had been adjourned just a few seconds before her voice could be heard.
“You should reopen the meeting,” Casey said.
“The meeting has been adjourned,” returned one voice from the County’s line in the meeting, presumably coming from Hetherington.
Casey didn’t quit though.
“In all fairness, you should reopen the public meeting so I can make a comment,” she added.
The row continued into the Salary Board meeting that immediately followed. And the two sides kept at each other.
Casey’s Censored Comments
Casey never got to say what she’d planned to say so The Canary reached out to her immediately following the meeting. First, she said that she really didn’t believe she was blocked but there was some technical issue with her connection to the meeting. She said she hit the appropriate buttons to unmute her microphone but Zoom didn’t respond right away.
Considering the circumstances of the virtual meeting and the fact that Schuylkill County Commissioners aren’t the most adept at conducting these Zoom meetings, Casey believes there was no harm in reopening the meeting after the gavel pounded so she could make her comment.
“Boots is so heavy handed,” she said. “You would deprive a person of making a public comment? You have to be flexible here.”
So, what did she plan to say on Wednesday?
Casey tells us that her comments were going to be about Halcovage. Specifically, she was going to address the alleged surveillance video that shows the Commissioner scaling an embankment at Schuylkill County Courthouse to reach the public security entrance to the building.
According to a Times-News report, a representative of the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office was in Pottsville recently to collect a copy of that video for its ongoing investigation into Halcovage.
Casey says the video shows Halcovage on his hands in a suit scaling this embankment. But when he finally gets to the summit, he goes in the opposite direction from the “guard shack” (or security entrance).
“Why did he go to the west if he were just going to the guard shack,” she asked rhetorically. “Schuylkill Sheriff Deputy Chief Brian Tobin said the video showed him going west away from the guard shack toward the victim’s car and then later went to the guard shack.”
She believes Halcovage went in the opposite direction because he was planning to meet two of his alleged victims in the upper Courthouse parking lot. At the time, she says, those two women were on a call with their attorney discussing their lawsuit against Halcovage.
Halcovage denies all the allegations against him and in an email to the Times-News, his attorney wondered why what path his client took to get to the Courthouse entrance was even making the news. He called his claim “trivial”.
We’ll have more on the other drama at Wednesday’s meeting in follow-up reports on Thursday.
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