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Commissioners discuss suit against Wolf administration

May 8, 2020 Digital Media Exclusive

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There was no ink to dry on the digitally submitted lawsuit, but the county commissioners commented on the suit shortly after.

Butler County is included as one of multiple plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit submitted electronically Thursday.

“I believe this was the right thing to do for Butler County, its residents and its businesses,” said Commissioner Kim Geyer. “It's certainly not the easiest thing to do, but doing the right thing isn't always easy.”

Commissioner Kevin Boozel was not in favor of the lawsuit.

“We're obviously on opposite ends of this,” he said. “I consider this lawsuit to be ineffective.”

Boozel said he believes Butler County is ready to be in the yellow (reopening) phase of the coronavirus pandemic, but he also understands there are some who are hesitant to go out in public, just as there are those who want the timeline for reopening to be expedited.

“We have to balance that,” he said.

Commissioner Leslie Osche hopes the lawsuit, which seeks no monetary restitution, could bring positive legislative reform. She said the declaration of emergency at a state level and the declaration of a public health emergency have created confusion, especially in areas of communication, that trickles down to county and local government.

“We've got those two things that don't work well together,” Osche said. “We need to be able to work more directly with the Department of Health and the governor's office.”

Geyer said county government exists to support its businesses. She said the governor is overstepping his authority by interfering with the county's ability to help its businesses reopen.

“By filing this we're able to put our stake in the ground,” she said. “People are asking us, 'Please reopen this county.'”

Boozel said he shared frustration with his fellow commissioners over inadequate communication from state officials, but he felt as though the county was gaining traction in that regard.

In an effort to increase communication, a conference call between the county commissioners and the state Office of Intergovernmental Affairs to discuss requirements for moving into the county into the yellow was scheduled for Wednesday. It fell through, but most likely will be rescheduled and involve more counties.

“If you throw a stone before you put your hand out, that's going to take something away,” Boozel said.

But the damage may be done, according to Osche, who said the lawsuit is justifiable, even if the state begins to respond to the suit.

“I don't know where it's going to go honestly,” Osche said. “My reason for moving forward (with the lawsuit) is my trust, frankly, is gone.”

While commissioners voiced their differing opinions on the lawsuit Thursday, they agreed that the businesses of Butler County should not consider this lawsuit an excuse to break Wolf's orders. They said to do so would break the law and put their businesses at risk for losing licenses or the power to reopen.

“We would never encourage anyone to break the law,” Osche said.

The county was joined in the suit by a number of parties, including Fayette, Greene and Washington counties, as well as businesses and state legislators.

Legislators listed on the lawsuit included U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly, R-16th, and state representatives Marci Mustello, Daryl Metcalfe, and Tim Bonner, who cover parts or all of Butler County.

Four state senators released statements Thursday offering “strong support” for the lawsuit. Sens. Scott Hutchinson, R-21st, and Joe Pittman, R-41st, were among the four.

Hutchinson said Butler County met the Wolf administration's metrics and should have been included in the wave of counties reopening Friday.

“The governor's decisions regarding the continued closure of businesses across the commonwealth have been confusing and frustrating,” Hutchinson said.

Pittman said his constituents have been unemployed too long, and they are ready and willing to go back to work. “Families are suffering, and I sincerely hope the governor will quickly come to his senses and act to ease these unnecessary restrictions,” Pittman said.

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Nathan Bottiger

Nathan Bottiger

Nathan Bottiger graduated with a degree in journalism in 2015 from Pitt-Johnstown. A business reporter, he also covers Slippery Rock borough, township and school district.