Wayne residents allege wrongdoing, decry local government

By OWEN WALSH
Posted 6/26/20

HONESDALE, PA —Every week, the Wayne County Commissioners take a moment during their meeting to ask, “Does anyone wish to make public comment?” And most weeks, nobody from the …

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Wayne residents allege wrongdoing, decry local government

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HONESDALE, PA — Every week, the Wayne County Commissioners take a moment during their meeting to ask, “Does anyone wish to make public comment?” And most weeks, nobody from the public is in attendance to answer. Things were different at the Thursday, June 25 meeting, where one disgruntled resident after another delivered speeches, decrying the actions of a local elected official. For about an hour, accusations of abuses of power and racism echoed throughout the walls of the courtroom.

The unusually impassioned meeting is the latest episode in the ongoing aftermath of Honesdale’s June 4 Black Lives Matter protest. That protest—though peaceful—was plagued by a rumor that a busload of antifascist protesters were coming to Honesdale to cause a riot. On the same day, commissioner Joe Adams made a statement to Wayne Pike News, which acknowledged the legitimacy of the protest, but also expressed concern about “bad people with bad intentions from miles outside of our community” who could potentially “destroy our community.”

Since then, Adams has been on the receiving end of criticism for his comment, which detractors said gave legitimacy to an unconfirmed social media rumor. Residents first brought their concerns to the commissioners’ June 11 meeting. In response, Adams criticized Wayne Pike News for omitting “good parts” of his statement which focused more on the positive aspects of the protest. He also criticized the story’s headline, “Wayne County Commissioner Adams Speaks On Riots,” noting that he never used the word “riots.”

“I don’t sell media, I don’t sell news, I don’t use social media, [I’m] very used to having people misinterpret intentions and make assumptions that might not be factually based,” he said, adding also that the news outlet called him and asked for that statement at 11 p.m. and that he had to “take off his CPAP machine” to answer.

Hearing Adams’ response, local resident-turned-citizen-journalist Dave Harvey felt “honor-bound” to follow up with Wayne Pike News to inquire who wrote the story’s headline and find out what was omitted from the commissioner’s statement. In doing so, Harvey “stumbled” into another ripple of the story.

According to a blog that Harvey recently posted online, two Bold Gold Media (which owns Wayne Pike News) employees told Harvey that, one day prior to the protest, Adams called the news outlet and requested that they take down a story titled, “Peaceful Protest Planned for This Thursday Honesdale,” citing the “credible threat” about antifascist protesters. Harvey alleges in his blog that Adams made “multiple calls” to the outlet and that CEO Vince Benedetto eventually agreed to have the article removed and replaced with the story which included Adams’ own statement on the protest.

Wayne Pike News declined to comment to the River Reporter about the situation, saying that it will be releasing a statement eventually. Harvey said the two employees who supplied him with information originally didn’t think it was a big deal and were comfortable talking about what happened. “Now they’re not,” he added.

Harvey’s blog dispersed quickly throughout social media, paving the way for the packed June 25 commissioner’s meeting. Before hearing from the public, Adams read a statement, emphasizing his support of the First Amendment and indirectly disputing Harvey’s blog.

“I believe there are posts and blogs out there that have misstated comments, edited statements, produced headlines and made allegations that are inaccurate and untrue and unfair; and there are people in this room that will vouch for that statement,” he read.

He also said that the basis for his actions was protecting the safety of the protesters, general public, private and public property and the community, “solely doing my best to inform the public as to protect everybody’s safety. I had no intention to reduce or impede the rights of anyone.”

[Read Commissioner Adams’ full statement here.]

The statement did little to soften the excoriating speeches which followed.

Honesdale resident Lisa Glover told Adams that “controlling the media is a characteristic of fascism,” and said, “I no longer trust your judgment, and I believe you should resign.”

Another resident, Joyce Lanham, complained that Adams did not say “Black lives matter,” at any point during his statement. When she was done speaking, Adams responded, “I will say that Black lives matter.” This was met with a round of applause.

All told, 11 members of the public took the opportunity to speak critically. Throughout those speeches, Adams was called a racist, told “f**k you” by one resident, and accused of committing a misdemeanor offense by another. Some complained that the commissioners have not had a presence at any of the weekly Black Lives Matter protests in Honesdale.

One resident, who did not provide her name, spoke in Adams’ defense.

“I would like everyone in here to know, Joe Adams does a lot of good in this county,” she said, noting his involvement in the Fall Music Festival charity group and his role in coordinating a local food drive during the pandemic. She said that Adams and other officials were trying to “not only protect the community but protect the peaceful protesters.”

Adams did not make any comments on the record to the River Reporter.

Harvey has made Freedom of Information requests for Adams’ phone records on June 3 and June 4, strictly regarding any contact he had with Wayne Pike News on those days. However, he said he is eager to move on from this issue.

“I want to focus on the real reason we’re all doing this and make differences about structural racism in our town, to take the momentum that’s going on right now and talk about real changes that can be made,” he said. “If it’s all about going after somebody, I think we lose that.”

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