It appears Schuylkill County Commissioner George Halcovage is trying to be a burr under a colleague’s saddle in the run-up to the General Election in less than a month.
Halcovage’s term as Commissioner is coming to an end at the close of 2023. But he probably wouldn’t mind playing spoiler to his fellow Republican Commissioner Boots Hetherington.
On Wednesday, the two had the latest of their numerous public blowouts. And this was a real doozy.
The Back Story
At last week’s Schuylkill County Commissioners Work Session meeting, the board voted to table a vote on 2 specific items on the regular Designee Approved Contracts list.
The Commissioners review and typically approve these contracts on a monthly basis and often, not much attention is given to this particular part of the meeting. These are contracts that have been fulfilled by the contractor and the Commissioners must vote to approve paying the bill for the work.
However, last week, Commissioner George Halcovage seemed to have an interest in 2 of the contracts listed by the Land Preservation Board. The contracts were to Agrarian Associates Inc., Lebanon, in the amount of $1,500 each, a total of $3,000.
They were for appraisal reports on two parcels of land in the county, 01-04-0049.000 and 30-08-0033.000.
Halcovage asked County Administrator Gary Bender who owned the land. Bender said he didn’t know.
Halcovage then asked Solicitor Al Marshall if these contracts were related to the farmland preservation action the Commissioners previously took. Marshall didn’t know.
Halcovage voted against the last round of farmland preservation money, namely because putting considerably more money into it would benefit Hetherington.
Hetherington’s farm was on the farmland preservation wait list and would benefit from the extra funding.
Halcovage said he wanted Solicitors Glenn Roth and Paul Datte to do an “ethics review” of the matter before he could vote on the issue.
Commissioner Gary Hess agreed to table voting on those contracts and the Commissioners eventually voted on it. There was a bit of a small squabble between Hetherington and Halcovage last week when Halcovage tried to clear up a little motion-vote confusion but was halted by Hetherington, who attempted to remind his rival colleague that he knew Robert’s Rules of Order for running the meeting.
“Would you please let me run the meeting, sir?” Hetherington said.
And just for the record, we looked into the parcel numbers and discovered what Hetherington probably knew at the time and what Bender and Marshall, and the Commissioners for that matter, should have known before it was put on a public meeting agenda for a vote.
One of the parcels is, indeed, Hetherington’s.
Apparently, Halcovage Has a Trick …
That little spat last week led to the big blowout this week.
Halcovage says that Hetherington, after last week’s meeting, “admitted to Commissioner Hess that you knew that your property was one of them and that the suggestion made to you by Commissioner Hess was that you put off the vote on those until after the Election. Is that the reason why these are not on the agenda right now because we said we were going to have that researched and come back on those.”
“They’ll be on for November, OK?” Hetherington replied after a short pause.
Then a rather lengthy pause followed his answer. In fact, the radio silence from the Commissioners lasted a total of 8 awkward seconds.
That’s when Hetherington brought in Administrator Gary Bender for an explanation.
Bender said these properties in question will be on the Designee list next month.
Halcovage arched his brows and said he didn’t know they were going to be tabled for a month.
Hetherington wondered what concern Halcovage has on this issue. He said these were bills that were originally approved to be paid and the Commissioners were voting to agree to pay them.
That’s when the two started going at it. Well, it was more Hetherington going at Halcovage, while the presumably outgoing Commissioner sat with a wry grin listening.
“It appears you’re trying to embarrass me, which is what you’ve been trying to do for the last several weeks here,” Hetherington said. “I’m sorry you did not get elected to be on the Fall ballot but you’re trying to embarrass me. You tried to attempt to embarrass our Treasurer last week … what’s your goal here? What’s your intent?”
Halcovage replied, “I’m just asking a question as far as what should be on the agenda … which you control.”
The spat continued.
Hetherington came back and said, “They were tabled ’til next month, OK?”
He added, in a deeply condescending tone, “Anything else you’d like to discuss this morning?”
Halcovage simply said, “That answered my question.”
Hetherington turned to Hess, on his right, and asked him if he had anything to add. Hess looked up from something on the bench in front of him and said he didn’t and said if that was protocol – to approve Designee Approved Contracts – then he had no problem with it. He said he’d vote on it sooner, too.
Hetherington didn’t want to let it die and started to say something as he shook his head disapprovingly at the whole conversation. But Halcovage interjected and addressed Hess.
“Your suggestion, Gary, was to put it off until next month,” Halcovage said.
Hess replied and said, “I just said to table it.”
Halcovage answered that and said that Hess told Hetherington to put it off until after the election after last week’s meeting. He then said, indicating he was done with the conversation, “That’s fine, let’s just move on,” and tried to make a motion to adjourn the meeting.
However, Hetherington knows it’s not right to go to the locker room with a time out in your pocket and said, “Where di- … Time Out … Where did Mr. Hess make that … Show me what public comment, show me what evidence …”
Then, cupping his hand behind his ear, Hetherington said …
“Was your ear against the wall eavesdropping again, Mr. Halcovage? Is that what’s going on? One of your favorite tricks … put your ear against my door, put it against Mr. Hess’ wall?
Do you want to start embarrassing people, George? For God sakes.”
Hess then said he has no problem bringing up the tabled item from last week for a vote next week but Hetherington said it’ll be brought back up in November.
You can watch the whole scene unfold right here …