Meeting incident causes Whitehall Council to consider safety measures
By Stephanie Hacke
Published: Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013, 9:01 p.m.
The T-shirt — bearing swastikas, a garbage can and a rat — targeted borough leaders.
The man wearing the shirt, too, expressed his dislike for the “masters” he addressed at the front of the room.
“They know what you are, and it's Nazi garbage,” Streets Run Road resident Raymond Meenan, 73, shouted as he exited the Whitehall Council meeting last week, where he had interrupted other citizens during the public comment period.
At one point, he engaged in an exchange with council President Glenn Nagy, who said the night could end in a jail cell for Meenan if he failed to calm down.
The incident in council chambers last week — with a man known over the last decade to engage in lively discussions during public comment period — will prompt increased security at Whitehall Council meetings, Nagy said on Monday.
“We're going to take some additional measures to increase security,” Nagy said.
Exactly what security improvements will be made are unknown, he said, but the issue will be broached by borough leaders.
“We're definitely going to discuss it,” Nagy said.
This was not the first time Meenan has approached Whitehall Council. In November 2002, he was arrested at a council meeting. Nearly two years later, he was found guilty of disorderly conduct, while other charges were dismissed, Allegheny County court records show.
Meenan, who officials say now has a sign denouncing officials in his Streets Run Road yard, said he attended last week's meeting because he was copied on a letter from Mayor James Nowalk to Allegheny County about safety concerns at the intersection of Brownsville and Streets Run roads. Meenan had previously approached borough officials about problems at that intersection.
“We have limited powers,” Nagy said of borough officials' powers to make changes on that portion of Brownsville, which is an Allegheny County road.
“But you have the power to throw me in jail,” Meenan said. “You owe me at least $20,000 for your lies, your false charges, your fines and lawyer fees for all those years.”
Officials said Meenan, who expressed his disdain for the Whitehall Police Department, has attended meetings for years.
“I started, OK, carrying two river rocks with me,” Meenan said. “If your police ever throw anything, I don't care what it is, I'm going to defend myself.”
The T-shirt, however, bearing the names of council members, the mayor and the police chiefs, was something they had never seen from a resident.
“As an American citizen, he has that right,” Councilman Harold Berkoben said. “A lot of people carry signs denouncing politicians..”
“I don't care what he wears,” Nagy said. “There's not a whole lot that we can do about it.”
Whitehall does not have a policy that could restrict what people wear to meetings, said borough Manager James Leventry, who said he never has had to deal with such an issue in his tenure at the borough, until last week.
“I think it falls under common sense,” Leventry said.
After an Aug. 5 fatal shooting at a municipal meeting in Ross Township, Monroe County, borough leaders and residents alike have a heightened sense of awareness about security at meetings, leaders said.
“The safety of residents attending government meetings is on everybody's minds,” Whitehall police Chief Donald Dolfi said. “People have the right to show up. People have the right to be heard. But people also have the right to be safe. I personally think that this will be an ever-evolving issue.”
Disruptions at Whitehall council meetings are rare, Nagy said.
“Our borough council meetings are actually a pleasure to be a part of and I think they're actually a pleasure for the audience to attend,” he said.
Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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