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Epithets, anger fill Zoom meeting

Lehigh County Commissioners Oct. 14 approved 9-0 an amendment to the proposed 2021 county budget that reallocated about $601,000 already in the proposed budget to other departments.

The legislative process was not pretty to watch and in classic compromise form, nobody was perfectly happy with the results.

This was a new amendment to replace one submitted by its sponsor, Commissioner Democrat David Harrington. His original budget tweak called for $1.3 million to be stricken from the district attorney’s budget for 2021.

Much to the frustrated anger of his many supporters in the virtual audience, Harrington withdrew his amendment and voted for its watered-down version.

According to sources, Harrington’s plan was doomed from the start. In fact, it was extremely doubtful the motion would even get a second from the Democrat-dominated board of commissioners.

Fellow commissioners, Democrat Geoff Brace and Republican Marc Grammes came to Harrington’s aid by crafting a revision that left the DA’s budget untouched, but found $600,000 from other places in the budget to apply to some of what Harrington and his followers wanted.

The final vote for the budget will be at the regular meeting Oct. 28.

The meeting was notable in several ways. Over 100 people attended the Zoom meeting. Area politicians, well-known community organizers, Lehigh County administrators and numerous supporters of the original Harrington amendment all waited to see if the county commissioners would approve Harrington’s proposed budget cut to the DA’s office.

Most of the remote meeting via Zoom was devoted to passionate discussion of funding for county services.

Some commissioners praised Harrington’s courage, while another said Harrington didn’t have the nerve to stand up to Lehigh County District Attorney Jim Martin to discuss proposed budget cuts.

During the course of the meeting, ad hominem attacks trumped logic and calm discourse. The personal attacks included one prominent citizen calling a public official “a thug,” a commissioner called a citizen “a liar,” a commissioner called another commissioner “too young,” a prominent attorney was described as “a bully.” A Ph.D. community organizer found more original insults, calling the county commissioners “benchwarmers” and “jackalopes.”

The term “jackalope” refers to mashed together taxidermy job featuring a stuffed jack rabbit mounted with antelope antlers. The whimsical and reportedly fearsome critter is often found for sale in roadside curio shops along old Route 66 in the Southwest. It is not usually associated with being an insult, but at least one commissioner confirmed it was taken that way.

“We’ll be back for all of the budget hearing,” promised community organizer Ashleigh Strange.

The meeting dragged until 1:30 a.m. before Chairwoman Amy Zanelli gaveled the spectacle to adjournment. But even at that hour more than 50 people were still logged on to the meeting.

Commissioner David Harrington's budget tweak calls for $1.3 million to be stricken from the District Attorney's budget for 2021. He withdrew the amendment under pressure from his fellow commissioners.
Press photos by Douglas Graves Commissioner Geoff Brace helps craft a revision to the budget at the Oct. 14 meeting.
Republican Marc Grammes, along with Democrat Geoff Brace come to David Harrington's aid by crafting a revision leaving the DA's budget untouched, but found $600,000 from other places in the budget to apply to some of what Harrington and his followers wanted.