Final Pleasant Acres town hall ends abruptly due to 'personal attack' on commissioner
Shortly after agreeing to extend time allotted for public comment at the final Pleasant Acres town-hall meeting, the county solicitor ended the meeting abruptly as a former nursing home employee was specifically criticizing President Commissioner Susan Byrnes.
The town hall Tuesday, March 27, at Central York High School was the third and final forum scheduled by the county as commissioners consider selling the Pleasant Acres Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.
County solicitor Glenn Smith said before public comment started that residents would be allotted an hour, but when Hallam Borough Councilman Michael Wascovich asked that they extend that allotment, he and the commissioners agreed to listen to everyone who was already waiting in line, according to live video of the meeting streamed by White Rose Community TV.
Smith also said before public comment that personal attacks on the commissioners would not be tolerated.
When Cindy McWilliams, former director of nursing at Pleasant Acres, started specifically criticizing Byrnes, Smith warned her that they would end the meeting if she continued.
"She can finish without personal attacks," Smith said, as a voice from the crowd shouted about First Amendment rights.
After a brief pause, McWilliams continued her comments about Byrnes, and Smith ended the meeting with video showing about five people still waiting in line.
The microphone McWilliams was using was cut off shortly after this exchange, but Wascovich, who is running for state representative in the 47th District, posted a Facebook Live video of the rest of her speech.
In her speech, McWilliams accused Byrnes of lying to employees about promising to keep Pleasant Acres under county control and accused the commissioners as a whole for purposely "running the nursing home into the ground to support its privatization."
County spokesman Mark Walters said he understands people are emotional about the prospect of selling Pleasant Acres, but personal attacks serve no purpose and have no place in civil discourse.
Asked about the constitutional right of Americans to freely criticize government officials, Walters said people are allowed and encouraged to be critical of government officials, but "there's a line."
"It's kind of like pornography," he said. "I can't define it, but I know it when I see it."
Walters also pointed out that McWilliams has an "ax to grind" as she filed an age discrimination suit with the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission against the county last year, and it's still pending.
"They got their hour," he added.
The county first announced in late January that it was considering selling Pleasant Acres and entered into an agreement with Susquehanna Group Advisors to explore that possibility.
The county received six bids ranging from $26 million to $32 million for the 375-bed facility.
Jay Wenger, managing director of the Harrisburg-based firm, said during Tuesday's meeting that the county had narrowed the field to three candidates.
The finalists are Allaire Health Services, Long Term Care LLC and Premier Healthcare Inc., according to Walters.
A group consisting of county officials and Pleasant Acres employees will travel to facilities run by those three companies during the next few weeks as commissioners prepare to make their final decision, Wenger said.
— Reach David Weissman at email@example.com or on Twitter at @DispatchDavid.