The Big Talk looks at the Chambersburg Exploratory Committee, Fulton County’s election audit bill and the nursing home death investigations (or lack thereof)

CHAMBERSBURG – Every weekday morning on First News, the local – live morning radio information show with Pat Ryan and Michele Jansen features the big talk topics and opinion from local Attorney Clint Barkdoll.

On July 26, the Big Talk discussed the upcoming Chambersburg Exploratory Committee meeting, the fact that Fulton County is on the hook for the costs associated with the election audit and that the Department of Justice has dropped the investigation into the nursing home deaths during COVID.

Listen to the full audio here:

Exploratory Committee meets this Wednesday

Chambersburg Borough Council president Alice Elia appointed three council members to lead an exploratory committee to look into the need for a nondiscrimination ordinance for the LGBTQ+ community in Chambersburg as well as the possible formation of a Human Relations Commission.

The sixth meeting of the exploratory committee will be held July 28 at 6:30 p.m. via Zoom only. For more information, click here:

Barkdoll said, “As I’ve said for weeks now I think they’re building a record to justify their vote. I think they knew going into this process what the vote was going to be and now they’re producing witnesses and evidence to support what that ultimate vote is going to be. I do think it’s okay that there are people outside of borough residents that are providing input. There are a lot of people that might have offices in the borough or do business in the borough. They may not live there, they may not be paying property taxes there, but I think they have just as much of a vested interest in this issue as someone living in the borough. So I hope the non-residency issue doesn’t become a stumbling block for some of these folks that want to present information.”

Jansen pointed out, “We’ve also heard very definitively from surrounding municipalities that they are looking to Chambersburg’s decision because they are also receiving pressure from activist groups to put these kind of ordinances and Human Relations Commissions into place. So if it happens in Chambersburg it could very well be coming to your municipality, too. And we know this as a fact. So it makes sense that we should be able to provide as much information, let’s take them on their word, to this group as possible. That they will be helping the council to make a decision on this. I see no reason they can justify not having Pastor Adam Meredith join them on Wednesday to give his perspective.”

According to the state, Fulton County will have to pay the bill for their election audit

Fulton County, our neighbor next door, was one of the counties selected for the forensic audit from the firm doing the same in Arizona.

Because they opened the machines to the auditing firm, the state is now saying the county will now have to purchase new equipment because it can no longer be considered certified.

State Senator Judy Ward had this to say: “The election code clearly articulates counties are charged with administering elections and have the authority to investigate irregularities whether real or perceived. Fulton County opted to undertake an assessment of the election and they should not now be punished for attempting to provide transparency.”

Barkdoll said, “The problem is if you read the letter from the Department of State, one thing that I think has been misconstrued in a lot of these discussions, they are allowed to do audits. Any county in theory can bring in an outside audit, but it needs to be done by an approved auditing firm in conjunction with Department of State oversight, in conjunction with other safeguards. What the state is saying in Fulton County’s case, they went out and did this on their own. They didn’t notify the department of state, it was not an approved auditor. It was not someone that had been vetted to do this. Because this auditor, which is the same people doing the audit in Arizona, because that is the way it happened and they copied the hard drives, the state is alleging they may have compromised the software. The state is saying they had no choice but to decertify that machinery. So Fulton County is on the hook for that.”

Initial reports said the cost would be $25,000 but it looks like the issue is a lot broader than originally thought, so it’s hard to tell how high that price tag could actually get.  

Barkdoll said, “For now the money’s going to come out of Fulton County taxpayer funds unless through some other avenues they’re able to access alternate funding that would help offset these expenses.”

Doesn’t that beg the question to Governor Wolf, why would the administration NOT cooperate with the desire to look into the elections forensically?

Jansen said, “It’s heads I win and tails you lose. Democrats won’t do a bipartisan initiative to do an audit the way people need it to be done so they can be confident about our elections. The audits they’ve done so far are not forensic audits. They leave a lot of questions unanswered. They won’t cooperate but then they turn around and say if you try to do it on your own, you will get punished this way.”

The letters that Tioga and York counties issued after they refused to allow an audit in their counties shows the worry of the cost that would be involved.

Barkdoll said, “I think Senator Doug has acknowledged that that is a big wild card in this process. It’s also not clear who’s doing these audits, where the ballots would be taken, where the machines would be taken, etc. I don’t see where this goes from here.”

Over the weekend in Arizona, it came out that the director of the audit has essentially been fired. He’s been banned from the building, banned from the process.

He allegedly started to share with Republican Senators that the audit was confirming the results of the election.

Barkdoll said, “I think that’s where this thing gets so sideways because even though I think legitimately audits can help confirm people’s confidence in our system – it’s not to overturn the election – the audits themselves have now become so political. It’s almost like they only want to do the audit if it produces the outcome they want going into it. I think there’s where this thing is going to just get so sideways – on both sides. If it reveals problems, the Democrats will say it was an improper audit. If it doesn’t reveal problems, the Republicans will say it wasn’t properly done and I don’t see where we’re ever going to get a resolution to it.”

It looks like the Department of Justice won’t be investigating nursing home deaths

In a one-page explanation, the Department of Justice has said it will not look into nursing home deaths as a result of COVID-positive patients being brought into facilities in certain states last year.

Ryan said, “In nursing homes, you’ve got not only these wonderful, treasured individuals who know a lot about the country and where it’s been. They’re far more informed than the general public. Number two, you bring some of these wonderful treasured citizens out to the polling places and the kibosh got put on that as well. It seems awfully dirty to me. We’re locking away our seniors, then they can’t do the election things they do on polling places, now we don’t have any investigation. I think that’s all you gave to the deaths of thousands of seniors across the states.”

Barkdoll said, “I think those people and their families really deserve better answers from the government than this. Listeners will recall last year the Department of Justice said that they were looking at Pennsylvania, Michigan, New Jersey and New York about these policies during COVID that these nursing homes were required to accept these COVID-positive patients and as we know it lead to thousands and thousands of deaths. It is disappointing.”

The Department of Justice has officially dropped the investigation for Pennsylvania and Michigan. They did not mention New Jersey or New York. Does that mean there’s still going to be an investigation for those other states? Hard to say.

Barkdoll said, “Why not look at this? Don’t all of these families and these nursing home patients just deserve an answer? Even if the answer is we did a thorough investigation and found no wrongdoing. I think it’s really disappointing that they’re not even going to do the investigation that would generate some kind of an answer some day.”

Jansen said, “What bothers me is they say based on this review we decided not to open. How about a little transparency on that information and maybe a little bit more in depth explanation of why you feel it’s not necessary to move this forward?”

Ryan said, “One page. That’s all those seniors get is one page out of the DoJ.”

Barkdoll said, “Could there be calls now on our Pennsylvania General Assembly? If the feds aren’t going to pick this up, could a House Committee, there’s committees in the House and the Senate that have oversight authority of nursing homes to the extent they’re licensed. Might we see something at the state level? I really think these patients and the families of all these people who died really deserve some answers. It simply doesn’t pass the test to say we’re not even going to look at it.”