Police to probe Kaleta incident
SUNBURY - City police will investigate Dave Kaleta's actions at Tuesday's Northumberland County commissioners meeting, but no charges have been filed.
Chief clerk Gary Steffen said Wednesday he spoke to the police department about the issue and was possibly going to meet with an officer later in the day. He said the county would make all records of the meeting available.
Sunbury police could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Kaleta, of Shamokin, who has been outspoken against the county's development of the Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area (AOAA), rattled off a list of 16 questions to Northumberland County Commissioner Chairman Vinny Clausi at Tuesday's meeting. A majority of them were 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 suggested wrongdoing by Clausi.
Clausi said Kaleta was out of order, and asked him to leave or he would call police.
Kaleta refused, including when he was asked by county security director Ronald Yeager to leave. Yeager then called police, but before they arrived, the meeting was adjourned, and Kaleta left.
Clausi said Wednesday he understands city police are busy with other matters and that it may take time, but he does hope they charge Kaleta.
"This disturbance cannot take place in a government building," he said. "Today it's one thing, but tomorrow it could be more serious."
Charges of disorderly conduct, harassment and disrupting a public meeting have been suggested by the county.
Clausi said he believes Kaleta, of Shamokin, deserves to face criminal charges because he didn't listen when he was told his time to speak was over, disrupting the meeting; that he was making unfounded and serious allegations about Clausi, and that he was cursing.
Kaleta said Tuesday he was repeating Clausi's language from three years ago about their disagreement regarding the AOAA when he said, quoting Clausi, "If you want a (expletive) war, you got an (expletive) war."
Clausi, who said Wednesday he doesn't recall making any such statement to Kaleta, said he was shocked that Kaleta would use that language during a public meeting.
1 minute, 4 seconds
Commissioner Richard Shoch, who has been at odds with Clausi over a number of issues dating back nearly a year, was asked his thoughts about the behavior of Kaleta, who is a friend.
"I feel he was right for not leaving the meeting because he only asked a list of questions, which he is free to do," he said. "He did not make any allegations and he was cut off before his two-minute time limit."
Shoch said according to the tape of the meeting, Kaleta only talked for 1 minute and 4 seconds before he was told his time was up.
"Mr. Clausi didn't even comply with his own arbitrary rule," Shoch said.
As for the vulgarity expressed by Kaleta in quoting a remark he claimed Clausi made to him three years ago, Shoch said Kaleta only was saying in context what Clausi had said to him.
But Shoch said he doesn't condone vulgarity ever being used at a public meeting. He said the county should adopt a policy that bans use of vulgarity, and spells out a time limit, and that anyone using vulgarity should immediately be removed from a meeting.
Asked Wednesday about the two-minute rule, Clausi said he thinks that's enough time, and that if people need more information, that can be provided after the meeting. But he's not against changing it.
"Maybe two minutes isn't enough. I started with two minutes, but maybe I'll make it three minutes or four minutes," he said.
Shoch said it's not enough.
"You can put a reasonable time limit on it like five minutes or a little more, but two minutes is definitely not reasonable," Shoch said. "I welcome back and forth discussion or debate on certain issues and nobody should get shut down because someone doesn't want to hear what you are saying."
He said he's not sure if Clausi can impose a two-minute limit himself or if policy needs to be adopted by the whole board.
Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel for the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, said she doesn't favor specific public comment time limits.
"The Sunshine Act allows agencies to impose 'reasonable' regulations on the conduct of meetings, but a time limit set in stone can be problematic," she said. "Two minutes may be reasonable in some circumstances, and unreasonable in others."
Acknowledging that Tuesday's case in Northumberland County involved controversial claims being made, she said her comments about time limits are based on the assumption the discussion involves "agency business."
Otherwise, she said what is important with regard to time limits is that they be flexible.
"It is unreasonable to use a stopwatch and cut off a member of the public who is in the midst of public comment on an issue of agency business," she said.