After an executive session of lasting approximately half an hour, four members of the Schuylkill Township Board of Supervisors took action to censure the fifth member, Supervisor Laurie Williams.
The action occurred at the board's Aug. 3 meeting. In addition to the censure resolution, the board voted 4-0, with Williams absent, to formally request that Williams resign her position. Williams was present at the meeting, but left prior to the executive session, which began at approximately 8:25 p.m.
Citing “misbehaviors in public office,” the two-page censure resolution gave four reasons for the censure. These included sending “offensive” e-mails that were “embarrassing, false and libelous,” according to the censure, removing a candidate’s campaign signs, improperly campaigning inside the township building and “exhibiting rude and offensive behavior” and making false statements at six public meetings in July, according to the resolution, which is signed by four supervisors.
During the public meeting Aug. 3, Chairwoman Barbara Cohen began to list the issues she had, including that Williams “libeled a supervisor for an alleged sexual assault,” with Cohen saying the allegations of assault were baseless.
Resident Tara Handforth asked why Cohen was bringing up “personal issues.”
“This feels like personal stuff,” Handforth said.
Supervisor Jim Morrisson said while only four areas were focused on in the censure resolution, “we could probably go on to double that.
“This is not the first time we’ve asked her to refrain from her inappropriate behavior and her unprofessional behavior,” Morrisson said.
Morrisson said Williams was not behaving as a public official should. Cohen cited a code of conduct, adopted in February 2010, for Schuylkill Township supervisors.
Williams was orally censured at the Dec. 1 meeting, which she did not attend. In the oral censure, according to meeting minutes, Williams’ behavior was called “improper, unprofessional and mean-spirited,” and the censure said Williams violated the code of conduct, took actions “detrimental” to township taxpayers, sent “embarrassing and sometimes incoherent e-mails,” and trespassed on private properties. A motion for the oral censure passed, though the vote’s turn out was not written in the minutes.
Supervisor Fred Parry said last Wednesday that his biggest issue is Williams’ lack of attendance at executive sessions.
“She’s not fulfilling her duties as a township supervisors that the taxpayers asked her to do,” Parry said. “She has not made one executive session in the last seven months and stayed there.”
Minutes from the board’s July meeting show that Williams voted on a motion following executive session, although it’s not noted if she was present for the entire session.
Handforth asked whether the executive sessions could be moved so they wouldn’t be as late at night. She also said Williams’ behavior at meetings was necessary.
“I sit here and see [Williams] picked on repeatedly and repeatedly, so the only way [Williams] gets to say what [Williams] needs to say is for her to, frankly, raise hell—and I don’t blame her,” Handforth said.
While she told the board that, as a resident, she would like if meetings could be less chaotic, she hoped the board could work out its issues without the censure.
“Some nights it’s crazy, it’s totally crazy,” Handforth said. “But I think that you have to find a way to work together, and censuring her is sort of politicizing the whole issue—and I don’t think that solves the problem.”
Handforth told the board members to “act like grown-ups and move on.”
Vice Chairman Norman Vutz said the issue went beyond her behavior at meetings. He explained that he tried to work with Williams when she first became a board member. However, he said she took a role where she was in charge of the roads in the township and “ran rough shot” over employees, according to Vutz, who said he had to do “an awful lot of apologizing.”
“We have to draw a line in the sand where she aggravates the employees, disrupts the office, embarrasses us to the open public, and the only way I know how to do it is expressing it in this censure motion,” Vutz said. “That’s why I’m in favor of it.”
The resolution to censure Williams passed 4-0. A second resolution to request that Williams resign was then passed. That resolution cited the same issues as in the censure resolution. A certified letter from Williams to the board was requested within 48 hours of the resolution’s passing stating Williams’ desire to resign.
“[The resolution] authorizes, if Mrs. Williams’ resignation is not received within the specified time frame, investigation of legal action to compel her removal,” the resolution states.
Supervisor Jim Morrisson said the board requested Williams’ resignation late last year.
“She basically ignored that request,” Morrisson said.
He explained that at the reorganization meeting of the township, Williams voted against nearly all of the appointments.
“That means she basically wanted to dismantle the operation of this township,” Morrisson said. “That’s not rational. That’s not logical.”
Cohen said when the board requested Williams’ “quiet resignation” last winter, the focus was on Williams’ family. When Handforth objected to Cohen’s assessment that Williams was “not fulfilling her duties as a parent,” Morrisson said that it goes back to her “non-performance of duties as a supervisor.”
“Time and time again she’s used the excuse of having to get home to her children precisely at the time that an executive session opens up,” Morrisson said.
Parry said that while he has “empathy” for Williams and believes her to be very smart, he explained that “she goes about it the wrong way.”
“I think she’s embarrassed us in front of the taxpayers,” Parry said.
Both resolutions passed 4-0. The next meeting of the Schuylkill Township Board of Supervisors is Sept. 7.