A persistent thorn in the side of Schuylkill County Commissioners started Wednesday’s regular board meeting by getting a public apology. The meeting ended with him getting led out of the Courthouse board room by a Sheriff’s Deputy.
During the first round of Public Comment at Wednesday’s meeting – comments that are limited to items on the current meeting’s agenda – Jeff Dunkel accused Schuylkill County Commissioners Chairman Boots Hetherington of calling him a clown.
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We weren’t in attendance at the Courthouse this week and could only hear what was being said via the Zoom livestream. But based on what was said, Boots apparently made a comment to County Administrator Gary Bender in which he referred to Dunkel, seated in the gallery of the Commissioners board room where he is almost weekly, as a clown.
Dunkel opened his comments with that accusation.
“First of all, Mr. Hetherington, I don’t appreciate the comment you made to Mr. Bender before you walked out of the room. If there’s any clown in the room, it’s you and the gentleman to your left,” Dunkel said, referring to Commissioner George Halcovage. “I’ll start off by saying that and I’ll take an apology after the meeting. Or do you want to address that now, what you said. Because it was clearly heard throughout the room. I’d like you to address it now.”
Boots started to talk. He got out, “I’m …” before Dunkel interjected.
“What did you say,” the former Mount Carbon Mayor asked.
Boots replied, “… I said that. I apologize.”
It could have ended there but today apparently wasn’t the day for ending things there. Dunkel lambasted the Commissioner over what was apparently said, running with the clown theme for bit.
“So, you’re going to call a constituent who comes here for public comment a “clown” and all this time, there’s one next to ya,” Dunkel answered back to the apology. “And you’re turning into one.”
Dunkel then referred to Boots as the “Acting Chairman” of the Schuylkill County Commissioners, a label that’s wrinkled the Commissioner in the past. He again questioned why a County Commissioner would call someone a clown at a public meeting.
“You’re the one running the circus here,” Dunkel said.
During the second Public Comment period, which can be on any topic under the Schuylkill County sun, Dunkel laid off the clown references but decided to hammer the Commissioners on the recent determination letters from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regarding the Janes Doe plaintiffs in a federal civil lawsuit they have against several Courthouse officials, including Halcovage, Bender, and Solicitor Glen Roth.
Those EEOC determinations said those officials were responsible for a hostile work environment that included acts of retaliation against the women for speaking out against them. Until Wednesday, the County was mum, officially, on those determinations.
Dunkel was referring to them in his comments but apparently noticed someone watching the clock instead of listening.
“Are you going to keep watching that clock or are you going to listen to me so you know what’s going on,” he asked Boots.
“Your 3 minutes are up, so I’ll stop watching. How’s that?” Dunkel was told, referring to the 3-minute limit on public comments delivered in person at Commissioners meetings.
“OK,” Dunkel said back, “It’s not up but …”
“No, it is,” Boots answered. “You’re done.”
Again, it could have ended there but remember, today wasn’t the day for that, apparently.
Time’s Not Up
Even though Dunkel’s 3 minutes were up, per our timing, pretty much nothing was done at that point.
Dunkel tried again to finish an accusation he was making about Roth and Halcovage regarding the suspension of the pair of tax office employees who just happen to be 2 of the 4 Janes Doe in a federal sexual harassment lawsuit against the two officials and Bender, who was noted earlier in the clown portion of this Courthouse kerfuffle.
Someone else could be heard yelling out, “MR. DUNKEL, YOUR TIME IS UP!”
Then Boots could be heard instructing Dunkel that he “may sit down”.
“I’m asking why …,” Dunkel said, trying again.
“You may sit down,” Boots snapped back in reply.
“Why weren’t they investigated,” Dunkel badgered.
Boots then threatened to call in the heavies. He said, “Mr. Dunkel, that’s why the Sheriff’s deputy is here.”
Dunkel tried talking over Boots’ threat to have him removed from the Commissioners chamber. That prompted Boots to escalate the situation. He’d clearly had enough.
“The Sheriff’s Deputy is here because I expected you to misbehave again,” Boots said, his voice tailing off into a disappointed tone.
Yer Outta Here!
Dunkel continued to hammer at his point. Boots kept talking over him and if you were listening on the Zoom line for this meeting like we were, the cacophony was pretty much inaudible. That one piddly microphone the County uses to pick up audio for the livestream couldn’t take all the back-and-forth.
All you could hear when the verbal dust settled was Boots again instructing Dunkel to “please, sit down” and that he wasn’t “going to answer that question.”
Dunkel could be heard saying something else but it was impossible to make out what it was.
Boots then ordered the on-hand Sheriff’s Deputy to “escort” Dunkel out of the room.
On his way out, Dunkel told the room, “Have a good day, fellas.”
- EEOC Rules Schuylkill County Tax Office Shake-Up is Retaliation Against Jane Does
- EEOC Rules Schuylkill Courthouse Officials Discriminating, Intimidating, Retaliating Against Women