Schuylkill County Commissioners Chairman Boots Hetherington is openly editing and/or refusing to read public comments during regular meetings.
On Wednesday, Hetherington acknowledged and then refused to read comments submitted via email by Ringtown resident Doug Litwhiler. Litwhiler’s comments pertained to a pair of items on the agenda for the Commissioners work session meeting held on Dec. 16.
But instead of reading the comments as submitted, Hetherington announced that the comments, essentially, were redundant, and moved on. In reality, Boots didn’t like the comments so Boots didn’t read them.
Schuylkill County Commissioners Openly Editing Public Comments Critical of Performance
Hetherington is obviously utilizing a provision in the new public comments rules he helped ram through a few months ago. One provision in the rules he helped approve says comments can be discarded if they amount to rumors or are redundant.
The Commissioners were divided on passing these controversial rules, which themselves received quite a public backlash. Hetherington and fellow Republican (in name only) Commissioner George Halcovage approved of the rules. Democrat Gary Hess voted against the new rules.
Hetherington and Halcovage approved the rules during a time in which they were hearing increasing criticisms of their job performance on a number of issues, including the proposed purchase of the former Giant grocery store in Pottsville, their handling of Schuylkill County’s CARES Act allotment, the County response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the lingering issue of the Halcovage sexual harassment scandal.
Agenda Item 14
During Wednesday’s meeting, Hetherington acknowledged that Litwhiler sent in some comments pertaining to the Commissioners’ public work session agenda. The comments should have been read aloud, per Hetherington’s rules, by Hetherington himself.
New rules dictate that the public can no longer speak for themselves and are required to submit email comments to the County by 3 p.m. the day before a meeting. The rules only allow the public 5 hours, at most, to submit their comments in the middle of a weekday.
Litwhiler’s first comment pertained to Agenda Item #14. Here’s what that was on Wednesday’s agenda:
“This comment was previously presented,” Hetherington said, without reading the comment aloud. “I will not take the time to read it again.”
Boots says the comments were redundant as they pertain to these agenda items. However, in at least this case, that’s impossible. Agenda Item #14 isn’t on any previous meeting agendas, so how can the comments be redundant?
If anything, Litwhiler’s comment pertaining to those appointments to Schuylkill County Industrial Development Authority (SCIDA) and Schuylkill County Transportation Authority (SCTA) are rhetorical, but not redundant since it was the first time this issue was mentioned.
Here’s what Litwhiler wrote that wasn’t read:
“Again you are appointing people to various boards. What is the process for appointing these people and how can someone who is interested in one of these positions apply? Why is it always the same people? Do you have to donate to campaigns to get appointed? Are any of these positions paid positions? I guess like usual no one will answer this even after you have over 19 hours to read this question. I’m starting to think it probably takes the entire 19 Hours to process what’s being asked.”
Agenda Item 15
Litwhiler’s comments pertaining to Agenda Item 15 dealt more with something that happened recently and weren’t necessarily on Wednesday’s agenda, specifically. He wants to know why the new Human Resources director for Schuylkill County is entering the job at what he says is the county’s highest pay grade. He’s asked this in the past, didn’t get an answer, so he asked again.
“I asked about a county policy two weeks in a row and again no answer. Are you people that ignorant that you can’t answer a question ever? Do you realize that if you answered questions you probably wouldn’t always get the same questions or any questions and we would probably go away! So I am going to ask again. And no acting chair boots this isn’t a personnel issue it’s a policy issue. Ask one of your Cracker Jack law degree lawyers the difference hopefully they will know. Is it county policy to hire people at a starting pay grade and then they must work their way up to higher pay grades? And if so why did we hire someone at the highest pay grade?”
But Boots didn’t read that comment.
“Once again, this comment was previously presented,” he said and then moved on with the meeting agenda.
Redundancy is Relative
The problem with Hetherington’s choice to not read these comments aloud due to redundancy is that it’s only true if you live in a bubble of Schuylkill County politics.
Litwhiler’s comments are only redundant if you attend every public meeting or follow the stories week after week. And lately, we haven’t seen much from other media sources on these comments. And theoretically, a person could have been attending their very first public meeting on Wednesday. Litwhiler’s comments wouldn’t be redundant to them.
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