CORRECTION/CLARIFICATION: Earlier this evening, we reported that Jeff Dunkel was removed from the Schuylkill County Commissioners meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 2, asked to leave by Commissioner Boots Hetherington. That was #FakeNews. (1/4)
— Coal Region Canary 🐤 (@HardCoalCanary) December 3, 2021
Wednesday’s discussion about where the proposed 2022 Schuylkill County government budget should be boiled over in the Commissioners board room.
And in the end, Commissioner Boots Hetherington attempted to have someone – well, former Mount Carbon Mayor Jeff Dunkel – removed from the board room.
It all started when Dunkel was questioning why the County Solicitor’s office needed more time to determine if the budget is permitted to be copied and sent to the public. You don’t need a law degree to know that it most certainly is, but the County is taking a stubborn stance on this issue and dragging it out as long as it can.
That’s not sitting well with Dunkel, who like us, was forced to file a Right to Know request simply to get a copy of something that’s legally supposed to be on display for public review.
On Wednesday, both sides of the argument got combative in public and in the end, Dunkel was asked to leave by the uncompromising Boots. Luckily, the situation calmed quickly and Dunkel stayed for the remainder of the meeting.
(CORRECTION: A previous version of this article indicates Dunkel was ejected from the board room. However, he tells us that while he was asked to leave, the situation simmered down to where he didn’t actually leave the board room.)
Dunkel Nearly Tossed from Schuylkill Commissioners Board Room
The irony of these fiery exchanges is how they start.
It all sounds cordial to an outsider, but anyone following the Schuylkill County Commissioners lately knows things may go off the rails when they hear, as they did on Wednesday, these trigger words:
“‘Morning, Mr. Dunkel.”
“‘Morning,” Dunkel replies.
Now, on Wednesday, Dunkel was questioning why the County seemed to be hiding the copy of the proposed 2022 budget.
This shouldn’t be a big deal and the County should have no problem producing it. But for some reason, they don’t want to let the public see this during the period in which they’re allowed to question it.
Nearly every other Pennsylvania county makes theirs available for public review and download. Here, you need to go to the Courthouse in Pottsville – not a short trip for people at the outer limits of Schuylkill County – and personally view it. To make copies, you need to fill out a Right to Know form and there are laws in place that allow the County to drag its feet in approving them.
For instance, and this is where the contention really started on Wednesday, one tactic to drag its feet is for the County to say, as it did, that it’s checking to see if the proposed budget is even covered by open records laws. It is, certainly. But the County has this leeway and they’re going to use it, apparently.
So for good reason, that isn’t sitting well with Dunkel who, like us, was told the County needs 30 more days to fulfill our request – until Dec. 29.
By that time, the budget will have been passed for 2 full weeks. That makes the whole point of requesting a copy of the proposed budget moot.
Dunkel realized that and got upset.
The County just played dumb. But it’s just playing. They know, as one of our readers on Twitter pointed out:
Asked to Leave
At this point, Dunkel had apparently exceeded his 3-minute time limit on Public Comments, one of several rules Boots helped put in place last year when many people were attending these meeting virtually for the first time and letting their voices be heard.
Those rules created an adversarial environment that led to blowups like yesterday.
When Dunkel had gone on longer than Boots’ liking in the discussion, he said, “This is not a debate,” even though several people had actually started debating the timing of when budgets would be passed and received.
After that proved to only spark a little more debating, Boots said sternly, twice, “Your comment period is over … Your comment period is over.”
Realizing he had a little more slack in the line, Dunkel kept peppering the board about the budget. And that’s when Boots went for the boot.
“Do you want me to call the Sheriff again,” he asked Dunkel, knowing that was a threat to have him removed from the board room.
Dunkel fired back a little bit, to which Boots said, “Last warning!”
That seemed to put an end to the back-and-forth. Boots is then heard saying, “Additional public comment? Yes, Ms. Casey …”
Out of the frying pan and into the fire, right?
We weren’t in the board room yesterday due to other commitments but apparently Dunkel hadn’t let up entirely and all you could hear through the County’s crackling audio was, “Mr. Dunkel, you may leave.”
It sounded like Boots gave him the ol’ heave-ho.
(CLARIFICATION: According to Dunkel, he was not actually removed. While he was asked to leave by Boots, the situation simmered down quickly and he stayed for the remainder of the Commissioners meeting.)
This wasn’t the first time, as we said. The last time came in late-October and it started when Dunkel accused Boots of calling him a clown as he entered the Commissioners board room for a meeting. (See: Boots Apologizes for Calling Dunkel a Clown Then Dunkel Gets Tossed from Meeting)
READ MORE ABOUT THE HIDDEN BUDGET:
- Schuylkill County WILL Post Budget Online, But …
- Schuylkill Budget Folly Continues – Courthouse Says It Needs More Time
- Schuylkill County Has a Policy of Bare Minimum Transparency
- Transparency? Schuylkill County Requiring Right to Know Forms for Copy of Proposed 2022 Budget
READ MORE ABOUT CONTENTIOUS MEETINGS AND THOSE PUBLIC COMMENT RULES:
- Schuylkill County’s Public Comment Rules Getting Even More Illegal
- Boots Throws Temper Tantrum Over Comments on Commissioners’ Berry Picking Expedition
- Boots Strikes Public Comments Because They Came In Too Late
- Boots Caught Editing Public Comments Again
- Public Comments Erased from Schuylkill County Commissioners Meeting Minutes
- Boots Caught Editing Public Comments During Schuylkill County Commissioners Meeting Wednesday
AND READ EVEN MORE IN OUR NEW SECTION, YOUR RIGHT TO KNOW, WHERE WE FIGHT FOR PUBLIC ACCESS TO LOCAL GOVERNMENT