Sussex Freeholder Board Takes No Action in Scanlan Matter

The Sussex County Freeholder Board.

NEWTON – In an apt metaphor for football season, the Sussex County freeholders will let Jerry Scanlan run out the clock.

Scanlan, the chair of the Sussex County Republican Committee, caused a ruckus a few months ago with a series of racist and  misogynistic tweets aimed at prominent Democrats, many of them women. This proved more problematic than usual, giving Scanlan’s other role as vice-chair of the Sussex County Community College board of trustees.

Did a college really want a board member who calls political opponents “lesbian hags” and “whores” as some of the tweets did?

Apparently not. In August the board stripped Scanlan of his vice-chairmanship, censured him and asked the freeholders, who have appointment power in this instance, to consider booting him off the board entirely.

Some of this was a bit academic, given the fact Scanlan’s term expires Oct. 31 as it is.

On Wednesday, the all-Republican freeholders acted on the college’s request. They opted to do nothing.

The decision was not without some drama. The meeting room was filled with people representing both sides of this emotional issue.

Scanlan’s supporters cited the need to protect all types of speech.

His detractors said things were not that simple. They argued that hateful words have an impact and that Scanlan was not an ordinary guy with a computer, but a man who sits on a board overseeing the local college. One woman said her granddaughter will not consider attending the college because of the tweets.

The freeholders’ decision to take no action was based on an opinion by Kevin Kelly, the county counsel, who made two broad points. One was that Scanlan’s tweets did not constitute a crime. The other was that the tweets were distinct from Scanlan’s duties as a board member. As an overview, Kelly explained that removing an elected or appointed official from office is rightly difficult by design.

To any objective observer, this was a very reasonable opinion. So, the freeholders were on solid legal ground in opting not to remove Scanlan.

But they also took turns defending him, perhaps too much so.

Freeholder Joshua Hertzberg said Scanlan already has been punished enough and that there is no reason to “demonize” the man.

Sylvia Petillo, the board’s deputy director, lives in Hopatcong, as does Scanlan. She said Scanlan was so humiliated by this ordeal that after the news broke, he was wary about leaving the house and being seen in public.

Their point was clear. Why compound his misery by kicking him off the college board?

Another point made was that Scanlan didn’t really “say” or write the tweets in question. Instead, they were re-tweets, some of which Scanlan was not even aware.

That excuse is a bit flimsy. Aren’t individuals responsible for tweets under their name even if they didn’t create the message themselves?

More than one freeholder said the tweets were totally out of character for Scanlan, who was described as a sensitive, caring man.

Freeholder George Graham encouraged critics to “Go find out who Jerry Scanlan is.”

The admiration for Scanlan was sincere, but here is the problem. It is virtually impossible for the average county resident to know Scanlan personally, Average people are not part of a county’s political structure, which is how those involved in public life meet like-minded souls.

Most in Sussex who care about this issue are judging Scanlan only by his tweets. And they really can’t judge him any other way.

Like we said, the freeholders’ decision made sense legally. No question about it.

And yes, this issue officially will end in a few weeks when Scanlan leaves the board.

Nonetheless, it would have been nice to hear the freeholders collectively condemn the sentiment expressed in the tweets, or if you insist, retweets, as something that was – and perhaps still is – an embarrassment to Sussex County and its college community. That should not have been difficult.

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  • WindingVine

    I agree with the sentiment that it’s not worth the trouble of removing him, but it’s pathetic they don’t even have the spine to say “Those tweets were unacceptable.” He’s being humiliated? GOOD! He should be.

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