Schuylkill County Commissioner Boots Hetherington is once again not happy with the comments he’s hearing from the public.
Not only are they not positive and putting Schuylkill County in a good light, the Commissioners Chairman believes the comments he’s hearing are inappropriate. It’s gotten to the point where he doesn’t even think the Commissioners board room is an appropriate place to bring a 4-year-old.
He’d do something about it but as he’s recently said, “I realize this is public comment … freedom of speech. I realize that I cannot stop it legally without repercussions and possibly a lawsuit.”
Those are the words of a man who’d really like to limit free speech in his board room but that darned pesky Bill of Rights is in his way.
So, to counter his frustrations with that whole freedom of speech stuff, Boots has resorted to treating people who make comments at public meetings like the 4-year-olds he says shouldn’t attend the meetings.
Schuylkill County Commissioners are no place for a 4-year-old, even if you think everyone’s a 4-year-old
Now, since taking over as Schuylkill County Commissioners Chairman back in 2019, Boots has battled with public comments. He’s once failed to limit them during meetings. Boots even tried to prevent The Canary and others from making recordings of virtual meetings.
And ever since he’s returned to the Courthouse after his life-threatening fall on his farm earlier this year, Boots has been increasingly outspoken about the nature and even the punctuation of public comments.
Yous people write like 4-year-olds …
On Wednesday, Boots went off the rails in criticizing public comments.
The County received a pair of written public comments. Both pertained to perceived unfair treatment received by Schuylkill County Children & Youth and judges presiding over certain cases within that department.
Suffice to say, without getting into unconfirmed details of the comments, the people who wrote in to make public comments on Wednesday were not pleased with Children & Youth or anyone they’ve encountered at the Courthouse.
Boots didn’t like that criticism but before reading the comments he didn’t appreciate, he took a moment to demean the people who wrote them, criticizing their writing style.
“Before I read ’em, I’m gonna apologize,” Boots said. “The written public comments have no punctuation, have run-on sentences. I’ll do my best to do a good job to present them.”
Not sure if ridiculing the public is the way to go here, especially if you don’t like their comments.
Oh, but he wasn’t done letting the people whose writing he didn’t appreciate have it. He closed the meeting with sharp criticism of the bad writing he just read but this time, it was the nature of the comments, not how many commas they were missing.
“They’re legitimate. They’re allowed by law,” he said. “But I find it troubling and extremely difficult to read comments that question the integrity of our Common Pleas Court judges and the judicial system. It’s very upsetting to have comments made like that. But once again, I realize I have to do it but it does sadden me to have comments made about our judges like that.”
Let’s be clear here. He’s not “saddened” that the accusations made might be true. He’s sure they aren’t. What really saddens him is that people are saying it or well … writing it poorly.
… so I’ll talk to you like 4-year-olds.
As noted, this recent issue with public comments reignited when Boots made his return to the Courthouse after the farm accident.
In his first meeting back, on July 27, board nemesis Jeff Dunkel provoked the Commissioner with his most recent rant about his fellow board member, George Halcovage.
Dunkel decided to use his 3 minutes to criticize criticism he’d received the week prior, when Halcovage dissed Dunkel for calling the County’s former HR Director a name. Halcovage called the remarks ‘disparaging’ and Dunkel tried telling Halcovage what he thought was disparaging.
Basically, it was a rundown of all the accusations included in the 75-page (or so) lawsuit against him in a federal court. And that includes some language that’s definitely not meant for a 4-year-old … well, depending on who you ask these days.
Well, Boots put up with it while Dunkel did his routine but while he was ranting about something else, Dunkel interrupted Boots from the gallery and the Chairman didn’t like that. He said Dunkel was out of order and threatened to kick him out.
“If you wanna behave, ok,” Boots said in a scolding tone. “If not, you’re going out.”
Just the way it sounded, it feels as if we’re one step away from Boots flicking the lights and putting people in Time Out if this sort of insubordination persists.
No Place for 4-Year-Olds
Why does this all have Boots so upset? Why has a good portion of his time in office been spent on what the public’s saying about him and the Courthouse?
Jeez, we wonder.
But while Boots isn’t happy that people are making curious public comments about judges, he’s really upset more by the tone of the comments, in general. And the punctuation, of course.
During that July 27 meeting, Boots lamented that his Commissioners meetings were, in fact, no place for a 4-year-old. He and his wife apparently had to break that news to their 4-year-old granddaughter earlier that morning.
He told the public that day that his wife and granddaughter had to drive him to work in the morning, due to the injuries he’d sustained in the farm accident.
During this ride, apparently, Boots’ granddaughter asked him, “Pappy, can I come to your meeting?”
Boots said his wife told their grandchild that the meeting wasn’t an appropriate place for a 4-year-old, not because a government meeting isn’t really the place for kids to begin with, no. He said his wife told their grandchild that “some people will most likely say things that are inappropriate.”
He added, again signaling that if it weren’t for that pesky Bill of Rights thing, ya know … “Now, I realize this is public comment … freedom of speech. But I am troubled by the things that are said. and it’s over and over and over again.
:It does nothing to promote the business of the Courthouse. It does nothing to do anything good. It’s embarrassing as Commissioner to hear this,” Boots said.
“Once again, I realize that I cannot stop it legally without repercussions and possibly a lawsuit. But when you tell a 4-year-old that she can’t because some people might act inappropriately, that says a lot,” he finished.
We quite agree with Boots on this, actually. A Schuylkill County Commissioners meeting, or any County Commissioners meeting, is no place for a 4-year-old. But if grown adults want to act like 4-year-olds or write like 4-year-olds, as he’s put it, that’s well within their rights, too.