Reaction to Open Mic Comments

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(WBRE/WYOU) — Some are calling them the open mic comments heard across the state of Pennsylvania.

They were made by John Wetzel, the Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections regarding the planned closure of SCI Retreat in Luzerne County. It’s obvious that those comments were not supposed to be heard by the public, but they were indeed heard and people are reacting. Some say they feel they were being duped by the powers that be in Harrisburg.

When asked what he thought when he saw the video on social media, Newport Township manager Peter Wanchisen said: “Quite honestly Andy I felt more than angry. I felt deceived!”

That’s how Wanchisen reacted after watching a video of Wetzel saying “You know what? This does suck. I wish I didn’t have to close this (expletive). It is what it is.”

The comments came during a break at a public hearing last week at the Greater Nanticoke Area High School. That hearing was to hear from community leaders about the impact the closing of SCI Retreat would have on the region.

The hearing is mandated by Act 133, that required that before any state prison is closed, the public can argue why it should remain open. The law was passed two years ago when SCI Retreat was also targeted for closure.

“When I read Act 133 the first time, I saw no mention there of putting on a dog and pony show just for the sake of making residents feel like their opinion counted,” Wanchisen said.

State senators John Yudichak, (D) – Luzerne and Carbon Counties, and Lisa Baker (R) – Luzerne, Pike, Susquehanna, Wayne, Wyoming Counties, viewed the video at Eyewitness News’ studio.

“It also tells you this decision is not being driven by budget numbers. It’s being driven by narrow interests and ideological interests who want to close prisons in Pennsylvania,” said Yudichak.

“I want to trust that this administration understands the importance of following this act, that it isn’t just we go through the motions and not consult with anybody and not have the input from the community,” Baker said.

We were supposed to interview Secretary Wetzel. We were told something had come up with his schedule and they would get back to us. We have not heard back from the DOC. A spokesperson for Governor Tom Wolf told me that a final decision on SCI Retreat has not yet been made and they are following Act 133.

Late Thursday afternoon, the union that represents the 400 corrections officers at SCI Retreat issued a statement on the open mic comments. The union believes the comments confirm what is has believed from Day One, that the fate of SCI Retreat has already been sealed. It will be closed.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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