Schuylkill County Commissioners — well, to the best of our knowledge, one Commissioner, in particular — stooped to a new low on Wednesday by instituting a makeshift DMZ inside the public Board Room at the Courthouse.
When we arrived to take our seat where media typically sits for Commissioners meetings, we were greeted with a cordoned off section used last week to get a good straight-ahead angle for our video of the meeting.
This is also a camera spot used by former GOP Primary Commissioner candidate Jeff Dunkel, who streams meetings on his Facebook page.
Two strips of NO PARKING/CAUTION tape were streamed from one end of the row to the other, like this …
Now, there’s an explanation for this action taken by the Commissioners (but likely just one Commissioner).
The week prior, there was a minor incident involving The Canary at the Commissioners meeting. This happened as Mark Morgan, the County’s outside consultant who is handling accounting of the American Rescue Plan Act funding, was beginning his brief presentation.
Morgan handed out copies of his very brief report to the Commissioners (let’s ignore the fact that they didn’t have a copy of that report prior to their meeting), the County Administrator, the Chief Clerk, and at least one other County official.
Ignored in the handouts were the media in attendance, the Canary and the RepublicanHerald.
Seeing that the Chief Clerk had her copy of the report aside her on the bench slightly below us, we leaned over and attempted to get a picture of it. Not being the greatest or swiftest photographer meant that it never really got in focus and the photo was never taken.
Before the camera could focus, Commissioner George Halcovage admonished The Canary slightly for attempting to take the photo and handed the media his copy of the report. And no, we don’t believe he’s the one responsible for the caution tape.
Now, technically, what we attempted to do was not wrong, per the law. The document we attempted to photograph was in plain view and we didn’t disguise ourselves in any way in an attempt to get it. There are numerous sources available that make this abundantly clear.
However, we did feel bad for having to resort to those means to get a copy of a report that should have been provided to all media outlets.
This is the absolute least the County could be doing in regard to disclosure on how its spending those ARPA funds. It was the same level of secrecy around the CARES Act funding, too.
Regardless, feeling badly, we returned to the Courthouse and waited for the Chief Clerk to adjourn from another meeting to personally apologize to her. It was accepted graciously.
We thought that was the end of it. But nope.
Some clearly vindictive person at the Courthouse had to make a point and that’s how we ended up with the caution tape inside the Board Room.
At Wednesday’s meeting, a question was asked about the tape and against his rule of Public Comment not being a question-and-answer session, Chairman Boots Hetherington explained the presence of caution tape by saying, “People were taking pictures of the information in front of them.”
Thanks for making our case for us, Boots.