LIMERICK — A shouted accusation of "racist" by one Limerick Township supervisor to the other four has spurred the issuance of dueling statements in a months-long dispute about mask-wearing and the controversy surrounding Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Gale.

The latest chapter unfolded toward the end of the July 21 meeting, held in person at the township building on Ridge Pike.

'Commissioner Gale Issue'

For the second time in two months, Supervisor Patrick Morroney, the board's lone Democrat, attempted to introduce a motion to have the supervisors draft a letter calling on Gale to resign his post in the wake of a public statement that referred to the Black Lives Matter movement as "urban terrorists."

Numerous other municipalities have taken this step.

"How you respond will tell how you feel," Morroney said to the other four supervisors.

The response was silence, as none of the other supervisors would second his motion, even for purposes of discussion, and they adjourned the meeting.

"The rest of this board, for not addressing the Commissioner Gale issue, are racist," Morroney said.

The four Republican supervisors — Thomas Neafcy, Kara Shuler Ken Sperring and Michael McCloskey — did not immediately respond to Morroney. 

However, a few days later they issued a statement in response. In it, they characterized Morroney's behavior as "political sideshow tactics" and called on him to, among other things, issue a public apology and retract his statement. It reads, in part:

"In response to Mr. Morroney’s offensive and false statement, it is important to note that on June 1st, all five members of the Limerick Board of Supervisors placed our names on a statement to the community documenting actions required by the Township Police Department to answer criminal activity that arose during the time of peaceful protests ongoing due to the tragic death of George Floyd. Mr. Morroney’s false accusation is in complete contrast to this statement, which specifically stated “Equal and unbiased protection for all is not an issue that needs to be debated.” In spite of this unifying and positive message, Mr. Morroney now seeks to divide the board with the racism claim because we will not support his request to condemn County Commissioner Joe Gale for comments he made relating to Black Lives Matter. The June 1st Board statement was issued to alert our community of Limerick police activity as a result of criminal threats we felt should be understood by the public we serve, as is our duty as the Limerick Board of Supervisors. In answering Mr. Morroney’s request we have stated that Mr. Gale’s statements have nothing to do with Limerick, is not a topic for township public meetings, and concerns should be addressed directly to Mr. Gale and the county commissioners at their public meetings."

The Republican supervisors further charged:

"Political operatives who control Mr. Morroney, many of whom have never found it necessary to attend board meetings in the past, have now attended our two recent public meetings to support Mr. Morroney in his efforts to achieve a letter of condemnation against Mr. Gale. Mr. Morroney and his supporters have attempted to overt meeting rules and have incorporated shouting and bullying tactics along with foul language to force their will and political viewpoints on this Limerick community."

Given an opportunity to respond, Morroney provided his own statement

"While tempers may have flared on both sides of the discussion at the township meeting, I will take this opportunity to apologize for referring to my colleagues as racist. I cannot speak to what is in their hearts personally. What I should have said is that in my opinion I feel their thought process and actions do not appear to be inclusive and some of my constituents consider their inaction to be racist. However, it does appear that my comments have caused my colleagues to take a painful look at their lack of courage on the Joe Gale issue."

Morroney further wrote:

"Joe Gale's comments affect my constituents in Limerick, some of whom are Black and exercised their right to peacefully protest in the Black Lives Matter movement. His statement was received as racist and should be denounced. Limerick is located in Montgomery County and is affected by what happens in MontCo, just like every other municipality. I stand with "all" of my Limerick constituents, Black and white, Democrat and Republican. I can say without hesitation that "Black lives matter" and "Black people matter" without feeling that this statement needs to be followed up with another statement about how I support our local police and other first responders. That goes without saying. But recent racial unrest and violence against black citizens apparently does not, so I stand with them in their fight for equal justice under the law. I encourage my fellow Republican Limerick BOS colleagues to give this some thought and stand in unity with me to serve all of our constituents."

Of Masks and 'Livestreaming' 

For the last three months, Morroney and other residents have assailed the supervisors for not holding meetings remotely which, they argue, puts those attend the meetings at risk of contracting coronavirus.

Most other area municipalities, even those that are now meeting in person, are also live-streaming their meetings online so citizens can participate without being physically at the meeting.

Speakers have further complained about the supervisors failing to wear masks when attending these in-person meetings, although their chairs are roughly six feet apart.

At the July 21 meeting, all five supervisors entered the meeting room wearing masks, but the four Republicans removed them once they sat down.

Although chairs for the audience were also set six feet apart, many more people than chairs were at the meeting and many stood along the back wall next to each other, many not wearing masks.

While elected officials at other township meetings — specifically New Hanover and Lower Pottsgrove board meetings — have held in-person meetings recently without wearing masks while in their seats, it has become an issue in Limerick, primarily due to the objections of Morroney and those in the audience.

In both of those townships, meetings were moved to larger locations to allow for more chairs set six feet apart for the audience.

At both the May and June meetings, Morroney has decried the failure by the four other supervisors (Shuler was absent from the June meeting) to wear masks, as is required by the sign posted on the front door of the township building.

The June meeting devolved into shouting among Morroney, Neafcy and members of the audience, many of whom are members of the area Democratic committee.

During the public comment period of the July 21 meeting, which comes at the end, a face-mask-wearing state Sen. Katie Muth, D-44th Dist., joined the fray and came to the microphone to chide supervisors for not wearing masks.

Muth-Sperring

State Sen. Katie Muth, D-44th Dist., in white, speaks with Limerick Supervisor Kenneth Sperring after the July 21 supervisors meeting, during which she criticized them for not wearing masks.

"The political tension that is palpable in this room kills people," she said in an apparent reference to the way in which the public health directive to wear masks has transmogrified into a political statement.

"Montgomery County had this curve flattened," said Muth, apparently referencing the potential for cases, and deaths, to surge once again if people ignore the mask-wearing mandate.

"Freedom does not mean you have the right to hurt others," she said.

This may have been a reference to a statement on the issue made at last month's meeting by Chairman Thomas Neafcy who responded to a resident by saying "my rights do not trump anyone else’s rights and your rights don’t trump my rights."

Muth concluded, "hopefully, we can wake up tomorrow and realize that we are in the middle of a deadly pandemic, with no end in sight unless we all work together."

The Republican supervisors addressed this aspect of the dispute in their statement as well:

"They have expanded their complaints to include that we were not wearing masks during the meeting even though we were all properly distanced per CDC guidelines. Their tactics are plainly visible on meeting videos they themselves have posted on several online venues. It is important to remind the entire community that public meetings are a time to conduct the important businesses of the township and political issues do not have a place."

But Morroney's statement rejects the claim that a political agenda is at play:

"Any inference that my Democrat constituents have some agenda, other than that which they have clearly stated at the BOS meetings, is both off base and offensive. At both BOS meetings these residents have presented their concerns as wanting to have “live streamed” public access to the meetings, compliance with state mandate mask wearing and other requirements at in person meetings, and a Limerick BOS public statement condemning the racist statement from Joe Gale. That is why they were there!"

According to the township website, the next supervisors' meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m., Tuesday, Aug. 18, at the township building.

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