NORRISTOWN — What began as the airing of a grievance led to the eruption of a verbal powder keg between Montgomery County commissioners on Thursday.
Commissioners Joe Gale and Ken Lawrence Jr. traded jabs over contentious interactions between the board's two Democrats and the lone Republican.
“The two of you are obsessed with being vindictive towards me,” Gale said, referencing Lawrence and Montgomery County Commissioners’ Chairwoman Valerie Arkoosh. “In reality, your spiteful, political stunts and abuse of power have hurt others.”
“Commissioner Gale, you said that we’re obsessed with you. I’m just not that into you. OK?" Lawrence replied during the meeting. "I don’t think of you much at all ... I will not stand with you. I will not sign documents with you unless they are legally required to fill my oath of office."
During his opening comments, Gale spoke about a pin ceremony that traditionally recognizes Montgomery County employees for their service. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the in-person function was replaced with sending letters and pins to recipients, and Gale said that his “name did not appear” in the recognition documents.
Alleging a “pattern,” he expressed further frustration with his colleagues for excluding his name and signature on a proclamation issued earlier this month declaring February as Black History Month and recognizing the efforts of the initiative’s planning committee.
There was space in the proclamation designated for Arkoosh and Lawrence’s signatures, but Gale was not listed on the Feb. 4 declaration although he is part of the three-member governing board.
“Your petty snubs and shameful actions insult the county employees, the Black community and tens of thousands of constituents who elected me twice as county commissioner,“ Gale said.
“How dare you talk about the Black community after the fear, division and anger that you caused with your racist statements in June,” Lawrence said. “You’re really a piece of work.”
Gale issued a lengthy public statement in June of last year condemning riots in Philadelphia during the national unrest following the Memorial Day death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man who died while in custody of Minneapolis police officers.
In that statement, Gale called for “law and order,” while criticizing “looting, violence and arson” in the Pennsylvania city.
“The perpetrators of this urban domestic terror are radical left-wing hate groups like Black Lives Matter,” Gale wrote in the June 1, 2020 public statement, which was immediately condemned by Arkoosh and Lawrence, who censured Gale for his comments during the June 4, 2020 board meeting.
Gale’s words received swift backlash from community members at public meetings as well as in a series of protests and demonstrations. A change.org petition calling for Gale’s resignation began circulating in the days following the incident and has since garnered 88,655 signatures.
“I will not stand at ribbon cuttings with you, and if you think your participation trophy entitles you to sign ceremonial resolutions, I suggest that you get your crack legal team together,” Lawrence said. “The same team that said you could run for lieutenant governor before you were constitutionally old enough to do so, the same legal team that told you you could block constituents, and I'd advise you to sue the county.”
After Gale blocked some social media users, a complaint was filed in federal court to prohibit Gale from censoring constituents’ comments posted to his official social media accounts. The lawsuit was settled in September 2020. Gale and Friends of Joe Gale “shall immediately cease blocking any social media users from following or having access to” Gale’s Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts, U.S. District Court Judge Timothy J. Savage wrote in a court order available on Aug. 31, 2020.
“I take pride in my name. I take pride in who my name stands next to. I wish my name didn’t have to appear with yours on county signs,” Lawrence said during Thursday's heated exchange.
Alleging that his fellow legislators are “fans of cancel culture,” Gale underscored that he remains an elected official.
“You don't have to get along with me personally, you don’t have to like me, you don’t have to agree with what I stand for, but you cannot cancel me as commissioner. So deal with it,” he said.
Gale announced this week that he plans to run for governor of Pennsylvania in 2022.