Walter Griffith’s sharing of a Facebook post critical of fellow Luzerne County Council members Kendra Radle and LeeAnn McDermott sparked a sharp response Wednesday.
Playing on “Star Wars,” the meme at issue was dubbed “Swamp Wars” and contained an image of Radle transposed as a character, with “The Fall of Reydle” written underneath. The accompanying message says Radle and McDermott voted against extending the no-penalty period for county property taxes.
A citizen posted the meme on the Luzerne County Citizens United social media page, and Griffith and county Councilman Stephen J. Urban are among those listed as administrators of that page.
In addition to sharing the meme on his own Facebook page Tuesday night, Griffith wrote a comment on the citizen’s post saying Radle and McDermott are “huge disappointments” for the county Republican party.
While emphatically emphasizing he has a right to express his views and did nothing wrong, Griffith said Wednesday he removed his comment from the post after reading emails from council colleagues expressing concerns.
Councilman Matthew Vough started the criticism before 8 a.m. Wednesday in an email to council with the subject line “immaturity again” that questioned why he had to wake up to constituents sending him the meme.
“Another classless, immature move from an ELECTED OFFICIAL,” Vough wrote.
He said the action relates to comments Councilwoman Sheila Saidman made in an executive session Tuesday that Griffith gets “all flustered” and throws “insults” when he does not get his way.
“I’m 28. I shouldn’t act more mature than someone like you,” Vough wrote. “Seven months in and every other week we see something like this from you. Stop embarrassing the county council. Grow up.”
McDermott followed with an email shortly after 11 a.m. calling for all 11 council members to respect each other.
”No one is perfect, and the condescending attitudes of some council members is intolerable. Walter, you keep making mistakes and yet have the nerve to scold other council members. I guess it makes you feel better to point out other people’s flaws without seeing your own,” she wrote.
McDermott said she laughed at Tuesday’s council meeting when Griffith reprimanded the Election Board for grammatical errors when he does that “all the time.”
She added she is an independent thinker and “will vote the way I choose.”
“Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Someone should not be bullied for having a different one,” McDermott said. “We represent all the citizens of Luzerne County and not everyone agrees with any of us all of the time. That includes you too Walter.”
Radle weighed in via email around 1 p.m., saying it isn’t the first time Griffith “has taken to social media to address concerns with me rather than coming to me directly.”
She maintained Griffith “DOES NOT” show respect for her, other office holders, the county manager, law office, administration or county employees.
“Especially members of these groups that are women. Mr. Griffith and friends have a history of calling out women over their male counterparts any chance they get,” Radle wrote, citing county District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis, Chief Solicitor Romilda Crocamo and herself, McDermott and Saidman among the examples of those targeted.
“Any time a council member, county employee, or other official has an opinion that differs from his, whether factual or legal, those who disagree with him are met with vitriol, insults, and either verbal abuse or abuse on social media,” Radle wrote. “When it comes to women, Mr. Griffith is an outright bully and demeaning.”
As she and McDermott had done shortly after taking office in January, Radle pointed to council bylaws requiring members to “at all times conduct themselves with courtesy and respect for their fellow officeholders, the executive and members of the administration, county employees, and the public.”
“Taking to Facebook or any public forum to complain about fellow council members, air grievances, or attempt to unite a group of people against specific council members does not seem like ‘courtesy and respect,’” she wrote.
Council members won’t agree on every issue and should have “ meaningful discussions and interaction” when they have differences of opinion, Radle said, asserting that Griffith “is incapable of doing so with any civility or respect for those who think differently than him.”
“Mr. Griffith needs to stop being branded as ‘for the people’ when it is very clear he is ‘for himself.’ The narrative he paints as helping the people, needs to be revealed for what it really is — dismantling Luzerne County and seeking retaliation for his own past indiscretions,” Radle wrote.
Radle and McDermott said they’ve endured numerous “nasty” social media posts. While they can’t stop citizens, they believe elected officials should be held to a different standard with social media engagement.
“There has to be a line somewhere, and he just crossed it,” Radle said of Griffith.
He said he was “not elected to win a popularity contest on council.”
“I was elected to represent the people,” Griffith said. “They may not like my bedside manner, but I am not sitting in the council chair to be friends.”
In reference to the meme, Griffith said President Donald Trump and others are “posting stuff like that every single day.”
“If they don’t particularly care for what I post, it’s unfortunate. I can respect their opinion. I have a right to mine as well.”
Insisting he always puts the interest of taxpayers first, Griffith said the assertion he is retaliating against those who have gone against him in the past is “folly.” He also disputed any implication he is tougher on women.
“It has nothing to do with gender,” he said, noting he has gone “head-to-head” with and “called out” male elected officials and staffers when he did not believe they were accountable.
“Don’t pull a gender card to try to inflame the situation,” Griffith said.
Griffith said he has not removed posts made by others on the Luzerne County Citizens United page because he doesn’t want to police the right to free speech. He noted Radle and McDermott are free add rebuttals on the page.
“If they are offended, stand up and dispute what it written and use that platform,” he said.
As another administrator of the Facebook group, Urban said he approves requests to join but would not get involved in removing posts unless they were condoning violence or something criminal.
The latest disagreement with Griffith stemmed from the Tuesday defeat of his proposal to eliminate a 10% penalty on county real estate taxes the rest of the year to aid property owners amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Council already had extended the no-penalty deadline from June 17 to Aug. 18 to help those struggling. Seven council members voted against elimination.
Radle said she ran on a platform of fiscal stability, and doing away with an incentive to pay by Aug. 18 likely would prompt mortgage companies and large entities to wait until the end of the year to pay. A delay in receiving the $9.5 million owed could force layoffs and nonpayment of bills, she said.
“If we can’t pay our bills at the end of the year, what happens to our credit rating?” Radle said.
McDermott said she had the same concerns in mind and also does not want to take any risks that would jeopardize efforts to cover next year’s rising expenses without a tax hike.
“I can’t at the end of the year vote for a tax increase. How are we fiscally responsible if we consider that?”
Radle also questioned Griffith’s authority to make a blanket statement that she and McDermott are a disappointment to the county Republican party.
County Republican Party Chairman Justin Behrens said he is not disappointed in any decisions made by Radle or McDermott and praised them for researching matters before they vote.
“They represent the party and themselves with honor and integrity. I commend them on what they’re doing,” Behrens said.
Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.
Credit: Source link