County GOP conflict surfaces at farm show
More controversy landed on the doorstep of the Butler County Republican Committee last week after a verbal dust-up at the Butler Farm Show.
According to multiple parties involved, the dispute early last was sparked over donations being collected at a Republican booth and the authority of those manning it to do so.
The argument came between two sides, each claiming to represent the Butler County Republican Committee.
The committee split into factions after a controversial set of meetings last month and opposing interpretations of the bylaws for reorganizing the committee’s leadership.
On one side, Gary Vanasdale and Bill Halle, who were elected to the committee during the May primary, are claiming to have held a reorganization meeting for the committee last month in which they were elected the chairman and president, respectively.
Al Lindsay, the outgoing committee chairman, said they did not have the authority to call that meeting based on the committee’s bylaws. He said the type of election allegedly conducted also fell outside the bylaws that have been in place since 2019.
“My personal interest is to have a legitimate election regardless of who is elected,” Lindsay said Monday.
Lindsay has since tried to hold multiple “official” reorganization meetings while Vanasdale and Halle’s group has refused to attend, contending that they already had reorganized the committee.
“The prior leadership was voted out of office,” Halle said. “The (farm show) booth is maintained by the (committee).
Slippery Rock Mayor Jondavid Longo was at the committee’s booth at the farm show when he was approached by Jennifer Gilliland Vanasdale, who was appointed as solicitor by her husband, Gary, Halle and their faction of the committee.
“At that time, (Vanasdale) starts telling one of our volunteers that the booth is unauthorized and the contents of the booth are unauthorized,” Longo said. “(Vanasdale) herself took possession of a box of donations meant for the Butler County Republican Committee, some literature and some merchandise.”
According to Halle, Vanasdale was acting in her capacity as solicitor and out of caution because volunteers at the booth were asked not receive donations due to liability concerns.
“That’s where they got very angry that we were even there,“ Halle said. “One of their people became very aggressive and verbally abusive and had to be escorted out of the building.“
A video received by the Butler Eagle showed a debate between Vanasdale and Longo, with both being separated by a distance greater than 5 feet and with farm show security guards standing by.
“I spoke in a stern tone, and I spoke with resolve because I was speaking on what was right at the time,” Longo said. “As a (U.S.) Marine, there’s a big difference between being aggressive and speaking with a stern tone.”
The video also showed farm show security asking both sides to leave behind all their literature but to no longer man the booth for the remainder of the night.
Lindsay said he made the decision to no longer send people to the booth as did Halle.
“They simply asked that no one manned the booth, and we complied,” Halle said.
Another point of contention arising from the farm show incident revolved around the paperwork.
In May, the committee’s treasurer Thomas Davidson, under Lindsay’s leadership, signed a contract with the farm show paying for the booth.
Longo said while the farm show security guards investigated whose right it was to man the booth, he saw Halle had signed his name and title as president alongside Davidson’s.
“I think it’s highly problematic,” Longo said.
Halle said he did, after their July reorganization, sign the paperwork as a member of the new leadership assuming liability and responsibility for the booth.
“(Lindsay’s people) refused to provide any information about who was going to be at the booth and what was going to be happening,” Halle said. “We got reports throughout the day about what was occurring.”
According to both Halle and Zach Scherer, both members of the committee and the Butler PA Patriots, the Butler PA Patriots group is not affiliated with the Butler County Republican Committee.
Though the Patriots is a separate entity, multiple members of the group, but not all, such as Halle and Scherer, are elected committee people.
Scherer said he was at the farm show the night of the incident, but the Patriots booth was in a different building. He said he and a couple of members heard a commotion, but only went to see what had happened.
“None of our members were involved,” Scherer said.
Scherer said despite being a different group, the farm show’s leadership asked their group to stop conducting business at their booth for the remainder of the week.
Halle, speaking on behalf of the committee, said he understood the farm show’s not wanting to take a position.
“We have absolutely no ill feeling toward the farm show,” Halle said. “We understand what they did.“
The Pennsylvania State Republican Committee did not respond to multiple requests for comment Monday regarding the issue of which faction is in power within their purview.
The state committee is anticipated to install the Butler County Republican Committee’s chairman as a member of the state committee, an automatic appointment.
The act could decide officially who the county chairperson is moving forward, one elected Wednesday or Vanasdale who has already staked the claim.
Lindsay said he has called yet another reorganization meeting for Wednesday at which time a chairman will be elected. He said the members of Vanasdale’s and Halle’s group are welcome to attend. He said he would honor any result.
“All we’re trying to do is get people together to have an election. Once they elect a chairman, I’m done. I’m out of the picture,” Lindsay said. “There’s an assertion that somehow, I’m trying to maintain my position. I have no interest in maintaining my position.”
Halle said he does not intend to attend as his group has continued with its own meetings, moving forward as the committee. He said more than 80 members have participated at each meeting.
That number of members would constitute a majority, given that following the primary, 127 of the 178 committee seats were filled. The remaining 51 remain empty.
“Al Lindsay simply will not accept the will of the voters and the will of the majority,“ Halle said. ”Our group isn’t valid because I say so. It’s valid because the majority of the committee members say so.“