Schuylkill County Sheriff Joe Groody says Commissioner George Halcovage violated a part of the Consent Decree agreement with the US Dept. of Justice more than 69 times since July 2022.
He believes Halcovage should be banned from entering the Courthouse entirely as a result.
This letter became the topic of a rather boisterous bickering session between all the Commissioners last week, during which Commissioner Boots Hetherington threatened to have Halcovage thrown out of the meeting.
Sheriff Informs Hetherington, Hess of Violations
In a letter dated Oct. 20, 2023, and sent to Commissioners Boots Hetherington and Gary Hess, Groody says Halcovage was in Schuylkill County Courthouse beyond the hours set forth in that Consent Decree. That agreement stipulates Halcovage must not be in the Courthouse before 8 a.m. and after 5 p.m. on weekdays.
The Consent Decree was agreed to as part of a settlement the County reached with the Dept. of Justice, which had joined the Jane Doe v. Schuylkill County lawsuit.
Groody says he’s reviewed video footage and time card swipe data and it shows Halcovage violated that time restriction a total of 69 times between July 19, 2022, and July 19, 2023.
The Sheriff adds that he’s reviewed footage and card data since July 19 of this year and found “numerous additional dates” in which he believes Halcovage violated the terms of that agreement.
Groody writes in that letter to the other two Commissioners, “Commissioner Halcovage has been fully aware of the terms of the Consent Decree since it was drafted. The Sheriff’s Office finds Commissioner Halcovage’s wanton and willful disregard of this Decree over the past 15 months alarming and disrespectful.”
He tells Hetherington and Hess that Halcovage should be banned entirely from the Courthouse.
“As a result of Commissioner Halcovage’s conduct, I believe that until all legal matters regarding Commissioner Halcovage are resolved, Commissioner Halcovage’s access to the Courthouse should be terminated, and any and all business to be performed by him should be done remotely,” Groody writes.
He then called on the Commissioners to formally ban Halcovage from the Courthouse.
Groody says his recommendation to ban Halcovage is also based, in part, on a conversation he had with Schuylkill County District Attorney Mike O’Pake. He says O’Pake also believes they should ban Halcovage from the Courthouse.
Let’s Start Bickering
This letter was the subject of a lively discussion at the end of the Commissioners Work Session meeting on Nov. 1.
During that meeting, Hess said he wanted to make a public statement and go “on the record” about receiving the letter and to prove something to the Justice Dept., in the event it called the County out on Halcovage’s alleged violations of the Consent Decree.
Groody’s letter started by citing a recent alleged allegation made with the Justice Dept. regarding Halcovage’s time restriction violations.
Hess said he wanted the DOJ to be aware that the County government was doing what it could to make sure Halcovage didn’t violate the terms of the Consent Decree.
“We’re asking you to conform to [those] hours, if you would, please,” Hess said last week to Halcovage. “If not, we would have to look at some other alternatives to do some things.”
And that started a bickering session between all the Commissioners.
Halcovage then asked Hess, “Are you going to make a formal motion to that because that is taking away my rights as a County Commissioner.”
The outgoing Commissioner noted that he was against the Consent Decree when it came up for a vote.
“All I was asking for is the same restrictions you (Hess) would have being in the Courthouse,” Halcovage said. “I have never been in the Courthouse after 6 o’clock.”
Halcovage explained that the times he’s been in the Courthouse after 5 p.m., other County employees have been in the Commissioners Office.
“As they leave, I leave,” he told Hess.
Hess reiterated his “request” as he put it several times.
“The vote was taken by a majority of this board to agree with the Consent Decree and to do whatever action we could possibly do. That’s all I’m asking and that’s all it was. It was a pleasant request,” Hess said in response. “All I’m doing is making the request and that’s what I did.”
Halcovage wasn’t ready to let it go and replied, “It stated the items in the Consent Decree had to be lawful. To restrict me would be not lawful.”
Hess came back at that, “Is a request lawful?”
Hetherington didn’t want to get lost in the conversation so he joined in by adding, “Three years ago, we sat in the Solicitor’s office and you promised us you would be here between 8- and 5 o’clock.”
Hetherington reminded Halcovage that there were allegedly eyewitnesses to that exchange.
Halcovage responded to Hetherington and said, “I agreed to it when an Attorney General’s investigation was being done.”
Things Get a Little Nuts
That’s when this conversation went off the rails a bit.
“It was the same thing I did as far as stepping down from the Chair and the agreement you had made was that I should go back as Chair after that review of the Attorney General was done. As you well know, you disagreed to do that,” Halcovage added.
Hetherington appeared baffled by Halcovage’s comment on that.
“What .. is that? I never agreed to that, George,” he said.
Halcovage replied, “Yes, you did.”
Hetherington came back, saying, “You promised us that you would stay on between 8 and 5.”
Halcovage started to say something in response to that but got cut off.
“Let me finish now,” Hetherington said. “You always talk over top of me. How about you get in order, OK? Or we’ll have you removed, OK?
That drew a disbelieving laugh from Halcovage.
Hetherington added, in a fatherly tone, “You done?”
Softly, off to the side, Hess said, “Boots, come on.”
Hetherington continued, “There was no stipulations. I never promised to step down as chairman. This had to be done until this investigation was over. This investigation is still going on. There’s still a civil trial. It’s still active. Nothing changed. You made a promise to us and now you won’t keep it. I find that very troubling.”
Halcovage responded for what appeared to be the mic-drop moment of the meeting and perhaps a bit of foreshadowing. He said, “So every civil trial, people should be excluded from this location is what your point is. I’ll make a motion to adjourn on that.”
Hetherington was about to let it go at that. He indicated that he was ready to start the Salary Board meeting, which always immediately follows adjournment of a Commissioners meeting.
But Halcovage started to say that there wasn’t a second to his motion to adjourn the meeting.
For the record, there never is, oddly. The meetings just end on someone’s initial motion to adjourn. But we had to fight about that, too.
“We didn’t get a se-,” Halcovage started to say.
“No one ever seconds,” Hetherington replied. “Can I run the meeting George, please?”
Here is video of that rather heated exchange between the Commissioners: