NORRISTOWN — A routine agenda item involving the approval of minutes from a Montgomery County Board of Commissioners meeting last week drew the ire of Commissioner Joe Gale.
“I’m appalled, absolutely appalled [at] what is happening in Montgomery County. My first amendment rights are being violated time and time again,” Gale said during the virtual meeting on July 9.
The contention stemmed from a Montgomery County Board of Commissioners meeting last month during which Gale requested to include his "addendum submission" in the minutes.
Chief Operating Officer Lee Soltysiak said during the previous meeting that it consisted of a “transcription of the remarks that were made during opening comments” and “other public comment."
In the June 4 opening commissioners comments which Gale copied in his proposed addendum, Montgomery County Board of Commissioners Chairwoman Valerie Arkoosh offered updates relating to the COVID-19 pandemic, the primary election and recognizing June as Pride Month. She also initiated local legislation denouncing a racially charged statement issued by Gale on June 1.
"This item is a resolution of censure which our county solicitor has informed me is the most that commissioners can do under Pennsylvania law to condemn Commissioner Gale’s statements and actions," Arkoosh said during the June 4 meeting.
Lawrence did not address Gale's words during his opening comments, instead giving a status report on the primary election and issuing a "resolution recognizing the staff of the Office of Children and Youth."
Gale used the forum to defend his earlier written comments about race protests.
Gale referenced his own statement in reaction to protests in Philadelphia where he called for "law and order," and "referred to Black Lives Matter as a radical left-wing hate group.”
Gale said those interested should participate in "demonstrations arranged by organizations that can maintain peace."
"However, it was clear this weekend in Philadelphia that the group Black Lives Matter did not maintain civility," Gale said during his opening comments on June 4. "In the smoldering ashes and rubble of these riots are the signatures of Black Lives Matter."
Gale brought up the June 4 comments as a minutes addition for approval during the June 18 meeting, but it was apparently news to Arkoosh and Montgomery County Board of Commissioners Vice Chairman Ken Lawrence Jr.
“I’m not going to second it. I have not seen the transcripts yet. I mean I’m not going to vote for something I haven't seen,” Lawrence said during the June 18 meeting.
Gale previously said he submitted the request via email, and further pressed Soltysiak, about why there was a delay to publish the meeting video. Soltysiak replied that it sometimes takes longer to upload longer videos.
The matter was tabled in a 2-1 vote on June 18.
At the July 9 meeting, Gale proposed the same request. He moved to approve the June 4 minutes along with his postscript, only to be met with silence from his colleagues.
Without a second, Arkoosh noted that Gale’s “motion fails.”
“A member of the public can submit comments [and] it’s included in the minutes, but as a county commissioner I cannot,” Gale said. “So I am for greater transparency, meaning more not less, and it’s appalling that the majority commissioners would not support a simple addendum to the minutes to include a transcription of what took place on June 4.”
Arkoosh moved to approve the minutes sans "addendum," which was promptly seconded by Lawrence. It passed in a 2-1 roll call vote with Gale as the sole dissenter.
“This is despicable,” Gale said.
Arkoosh also wanted “to remind anyone who’s watching or listening that the full video of every one of our commissioners meetings is available for the public to review in its entirety.”
When moving onto the next agenda item, the minutes from the June 18 meeting, Gale made his intentions to object known.
In a consecutive roll call vote, the transcripts were accepted in a 2-1 vote with Arkoosh and Lawrence endorsing the matter. Gale was the lone adversary.
The next Montgomery County Board of Commissioners meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. on July 23.