Political booth at festival sparks resignations
Cecil Township supervisors Vice Chairman Andy Schrader, shown at an August meeting, believes it was inappropriate for the township’s Fall Festival to be used for political purposes.
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Two members of the Cecil Township Parks and Recreation Board have resigned over an ideological divide sparked by a controversial political booth at the township’s Fall Festival last weekend.
Al DePaoli resigned Monday over the stir caused by the booth, which was manned by the “Concerned Citizens of the 46th District.”
“I resigned because I joined the park board to help the park, and not to fight political issues,” said DePaoli, who has served on the board for almost one year. “We’ve made some terrific progress improving the parks and doing much-needed work, so it’s unfortunate this issue came up.”
Jean Gardner, who served on the board for three months, also resigned, but declined to comment.
Volunteers operating the Concerned Citizens booth solicited signatures for a petition to remove state Rep. Jesse White, D-Cecil, from office. However, the particular item under scrutiny by the parks board was a poster containing comments that White posted under a false persona during online disputes over Marcellus Shale drilling. The main issue was that White’s quotes included “strong words” against a resident and other public figures, said parks board member Bob Abt.
“There was definitely some concern as far as what was put at the booth, and we had talked about it at the board as far as making sure that there’s nothing negative or degrading, or anything that brings another person down or puts a bad light on the whole festival,” Abt said. “We just felt that particular booth did that.”
White described the booth as “hate speech” that was inappropriate for a family-oriented festival, and he believes township officials should have put their foot down.
“Unfortunately, we’ve seen this continuing scene of these groups of people hellbent on pursuing a political agenda, and them using tactics and methods that are just unacceptable, and nobody standing up to them,” White said.
Darlene Barni, a resident who volunteered at the booth, insisted she was not affiliated with a political attack, but rather an awareness campaign. She said the group should not be vilified because of “offensive” quotes that came from White.
“We don’t feel that we had anything out there that didn’t bring attention to the voters of the 46th District,” Barni said. “We didn’t do it in a derogatory manner. If people wanted to stop and talk to us, fine. If they didn’t, we didn’t ask them to.”
The board and the concerned citizens group ultimately reached a compromise that allowed the booth to stay open for the remainder of the festival, as long as the poster containing the language that was deemed offensive was taken down.
However, Abt said quarreling continued this Thursday at the parks and recreation board meeting, where questions were raised about whether the booth was a fair expression of First Amendment rights, or whether it crossed the line.
“In my four years of being on the parks and recreation board, this is the most people we’ve ever had (at a meeting), and it figures it would be on something negative,” Abt said.
Township Vice Chairman Andy Schrader also attended the meeting Thursday.
“The subject of free speech came up,” Schrader said. “What I said at the meeting was you do have a right to free speech ... but I didn’t feel that it was appropriate to use our township fall festival as a platform to push your agenda.”
Schrader said the parks board rules are not as clearly defined for informational booths as they are for concession booths, pointing out that a food vendor at the festival was asked to stop selling hot dogs because the concession stand already was selling them.
Abt said the parks board will consider revising the festival rules to more clearly define what is permissible for informational booths in future years.