Kaleta, Clausi clash; police called at end of county meeting
SUNBURY - The Northumberland County commissioners meeting ended Tuesday afternoon with a call to police when David F. Kaleta ignored Chairman Vinny Clausi's request to leave.
Kaleta, of Shamokin, who has spoken out against the county's development of the Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area (AOAA), rattled off Tuesday a list of 16 questions to Clausi - a majority of them related to a recent claim by the state that the county unjustly awarded grant money to the relative of a county employee, but two others suggesting more serious wrongdoing.
Clausi said Kaleta was out of order, and asked him to leave or he would call police.
Kaleta - who is embroiled in a lawsuit filed against the county, Clausi and Commissioner Stephen Bridy over issues related to accessing AOAA land - refused to leave the commissioners' meeting room at the administration center. He told Clausi to call police.
Clausi then ordered county security director Ronald Yeager, seated at the back of the room as he is for all county meetings, to escort Kaleta from the room. Clausi told Kaleta, "You have no idea what you are talking about. If you don't follow the rules, you are out of this meeting."
Yeager approached Kaleta, still standing at the podium, and asked him to leave peacefully. Kaleta again refused, and Clausi told Yeager to call Sunbury police.
Yeager, who never tried to physically remove Kaleta, went to his office across the hall to place the call.
Kaleta, who had walked back to his chair and retrieved his coat and hat, returned to the podium and said Clausi had warned him about the AOAA issue three years ago when Clausi said, "If you want a (expletive) war, you got a (expletive) war."
While Yeager was across the hall, the meeting was adjourned, and Kaleta and his friend, Bill Knapick, of Coal Township, exited the building.
Clausi said Sunbury police didn't respond until 3:15 p.m., approximately 90 minutes after the meeting ended, because they were notified it wasn't an emergency situation and were told Kaleta had left a few minutes after they were summoned.
Clausi said police talked to county officials about the incident and plan to file charges against Kaleta that may include disorderly conduct, harassment and disrupting a public meeting. The commissioner said county officials also are considering filing a lawsuit against Kaleta for the questions he posed at the meeting.
Clausi said the commissioners are considering hiring extra security for their meetings.
During a telephone interview later Tuesday, Kaleta said he had not been contacted by police.
'Rumors' he's heard
Questioned further about his accusations, Kaleta said he had no documentation or proof that what he suggested through his questions was true.
"I have a constitutional right to petition my government for answers," he said. "If Mr. Clausi had given me more time, I would have told him that we live in a small community and there are many rumors going around. I hate rumors, so I was hoping we could clear a few of them up today. These were questions I asked the commissioners, not allegations. These are things I have been hearing."
Clausi was upset by the accusations, and issued a one-paragraph statement to local media less than an hour after the meeting referencing the "unsubstantiated allegations."
"While I realize that you are not in the business of printing scurrilous statements, please be advised that if your paper chooses to print those unsubstantiated allegations, which are based upon nothing more than Mr. Kaleta's delusions and imagination, then I will pursue whatever legal means are at my disposal against not only Mr. Kaleta, but those entities who choose to broadcast his statements."
Clausi later told The News-Item, "I'm not going to tolerate this type of behavior by any citizen," and said again he wouldn't discuss any of Kaleta's questions.
He blamed Commissioner Richard Shoch, with whom he's had repeated public confrontations dating back to early last year, for bringing "these cronies to every public meeting."
Kaleta, when he first approached the podium, said he would ask his questions quickly because Clausi had told Knapick earlier he had just two minutes to speak. He then quickly read them.
Beyond those suggesting wrongdoing, which are not being repeated here, five of the questions involved Kathy Jeremiah, grants manager in the county planning department. Jeremiah two weeks ago acknowledged it was her brother, Michael Faust, who received money from the homelessness prevention grant the county distributed, which the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) had identified as a potential conflict of interest. DCED has also ordered the county to pay back $215,150 of the $365,361 grant because it didn't provide adequate documentation of eligibility for recipients, including Jeremiah's brother.
DCED said it was also concerned that Jeremiah had an ownership interest in the home Faust was renting.
Kaleta asked if Kathy Jeremiah at one time worked at Clausi's Two Guys From Italy Restaurant in Coal Township, which he has since sold, and whether Jeremiah and her husband were matron of honor and best man at Clausi's wedding in 2010.
Last week, Kaleta had distributed information online with a link to a News-Item story that mentioned the Jeremiahs involvement in the wedding.
Kaleta also asked: "Did you give Kathy Jeremiah a Lexus at a below value price?" and then asked if he did the same for county Chief Clerk Gary Steffen.
Kaleta, asked later to clarify "below value price," phrased it "greatly reduced price," "significantly lower" than what could be obtained in a trade-in.
Jeremiah could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Steffen said he'd give no comment on the matter.
The next two questions were, "What are the rules for commissioners giving gifts to employees" and "What are the rules for employees receiving gifts from commissioners?"
He also asked whether Jeremiah's brother had been appointed to a security job at the AOAA.
Kaleta also asked if Jeremiah had known about her brother's application and encouraged its approval. Jeremiah has previously denied any wrongdoing in the grant process. (See further information in separate story.)
Kaleta also asked if Clausi was friends with another man who he said received some of the disputed grant money.
He then asked Clausi if he knows the meaning of nepotism and "why it's a bad thing."
His final question was to all of the commissioners: "Shouldn't the state attorney general and FBI be looking into these things?"
Clausi did not respond, but accused Shoch of providing Kaleta with information about Faust's application for grant funds. Shoch said after the meeting he may have mentioned the information to Kaleta.
Kaleta, who has offered criticism of the county's plan to build the 6,500-acre AOAA recreational area on forest and abandoned coal lands in Coal, East Cameron, Mount Carmel, West Cameron and Zerbe townships, was informed in a Sept. 10 letter from county planning director Pat Mack that his request to use the land for hunting and walking his dog had been denied after consideration by "two of three members of the board of commissioners," later determined to be Bridy and Clausi.
Kaleta, claiming the decision to deny his permit violated the Sunshine Act, won a preliminary injunction in Northumberland County Court. With Kaleta alleging a violation of his First Amendment rights, the case was moved to federal court.
Prior to Kaleta posing the questions to the commissioners, Knapick again asked the commissioners for an update on his complaint made in October regarding the cutting of what he claims was hundreds of trees Dec. 10 and Dec. 11, 2011, to create new trails for the AOAA.
Knapick told the commissioners he has evidence supporting the alleged illegal activity, but has been frustrated in his attempt to find out more information from the county planning commission.
"You said at a public meeting that anybody who did wrong should be prosecuted," he said. "I have made several Right-to-Know requests for more information about this issue, but I have either been rejected or told the county planning commission needed a time extension. Your time is up already and I plan to take legal action. This is bull----."
After Clausi told Knapick his allegations don't exist, the Coal Township man responded, "It's time for you to get out of that chair. Clausi chimed back, "Whenever you have the power to get me out, you can."
AOAA money transfer
In other matters related to the AOAA, the commissioners agreed to transfer approximately $6,000 held in escrow for the benefit of the AOAA to the AOAA Authority.
Clausi said the money was raised through various events held at the outdoor adventure area.
The board unanimously entered into an agreement with the AOAA Authority to lease 6,596.6 acres of land for the AOAA and lease office space at the Northumberland County Career and Arts Center for the authority.
Kaleta objected at the beginning of the meeting to the lease agreement involving the AOAA land because he felt it was premature due to his ongoing lawsuit. But all three commissioners agreed it was time to move forward with the project.
The commissioners agreed to lease Rooms 301 and 302 at the county career and arts center to Central Susquehanna Intermediate Unit for a family literacy program.
The board agreed to allocate funds not to exceed $150,000 to the Northumberland County Housing Authority from the Act 137 Affordable Housing Fund to continue the housing authority's countywide fight against blight.
The commissioners also adjusted the county's mileage reimbursement rate from 55.5 cents per mile to 56.5 cents per mile.