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Wayne Independent - Honesdale, PA
  • Council hires Southerton — as commissioner

  • — The Honesdale Borough Council on Monday almost guaranteed the issue surrounding the police chief will not go away any time soon.
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  • — The Honesdale Borough Council on Monday almost guaranteed the issue surrounding the police chief will not go away any time soon.
    The council decided it was no longer going to hire a police chief and instead was going to hire a police commissioner.
    They did so by a 5-0 vote Monday, hiring Rick Southerton, who they had originally voted to hire as police chief.
    The job of police commissioner has never been advertised for by the council. In fact, it had never been mentioned by any council member prior to Monday's meeting.
    The matter came up after many citizens attended the meeting, one presenting a petition with more than 700 signatures asking the council to reconsider its decision about the police chief.
    Tiffany Kominski, cousin of Sgt. Ron Kominski, who was acting chief for the department since July but was removed from that role Monday night, told the council the people wanted a different direction.
    She stressed she was doing this because someone had been wronged and that person's last name did not matter.
    She said the petitions asked for the council to consider making Ron Kominski the chief, calling him a "well respected officer" who deserved the job.
    But the council didn't see it that way.
    In fact, after the meeting councilman Harry DeVrieze called the group a "small minority," saying the majority of Honesdale residents want a new direction for the police department.
    DeVrieze also said the issue has "gotten all too personal."
    DeVrieze said the "general population" is "tired of the status quo" and wants something different from the police department.
    Page 2 of 5 - During the meeting, Mayor Ed Landendoerfer pressed the council on how it could even hire a police commissioner without having the position property advertised.
    "Your ad was for a police chief," said Langendoerfer. "Now you change to a police commissioner. You are completely changing the job."
    Borough solicitor Rich Henry told the council they had the power to name a police commissioner.
    "I think you are jeopardizing the citizens and taxpayers of Honesdale," said Langendoerfer.
    DeVrieze told the mayor just the opposite.
    "I think we are improving it greatly," said DeVrieze.
    Councilman Jim Brennan, who has been arrested by the borough police on various occasions and recently spent time in the county jail on a DUI charge, made the motion to hire Southerton "immediately" and pay him a salary of $45,000 a year. It is a one-year contract.
    When the vote was taken, it passed 5-0 with DeVrieze, Brennan, Juanita Pisano, Bob Jennings and council president F.J. Monaghan voting to hire Southerton. Councilmen Scott Smith and Sam Mikulak were not present at the meeting.
    That vote was met with loud opposition from the people DeVrieze called a small minority of the citizens.
    Especially vocal was local resident Sandy DeGroate, who was eventually led out of the room by others in the group.
    DeGrote began telling council members what she thought of the decision but Monaghan said the public comment period was over.
    That didn't stop DeGroate.
    "You should all be ousted," she told the council. "I have lived here for 66 years. I used to be proud of Honesdale but I am not now."
    Page 3 of 5 - Just before being taken from the room, DeGroate had a message for the members: "I hope you all rot in hell."
    After the meeting, DeVrieze said the "simple fact" that members of the Honesdale Borough Police Department objected "so vehemently" was reason for the council to want to go in a new direction.
    "Mr. Southerton is irrelevant," said DeVrieze, adding "they would be unhappy" no matter who the council chose if it was someone outside of the department.
    DeVrieze also said he "hopes" that "officer Kominski" is "mature enough" to help make the transition at the police department.
    "We want to make it bigger and better," said DeVrieze of the police department.
    The department has been short two officers for quite some time and the council has not made any movement in replacing those officers.
    He added that the police department "protested too much" and said it is "within our bounds" to hire Southerton as the police commissioner.
    "I am so angry they did it," said Tiffany Kominski following the meeting.
    She pledged to use open records requests to "look into" the past of Southerton and how exactly he came to leave the FBI.
    Tiffany Kominski also said she thinks the council members have learned nothing from being found guilty of violating the Sunshine Act.
    That happened when Ron Kominski filed a private complaint against all of the members for discussing his job with a local magistrate behind closed doors without telling Kominski it was going to happen.
    All of the members were found guilty of the violation following a court hearing last week.
    Page 4 of 5 - Tiffany Kominski found that ironic, saying the action by the council Monday was "under everybody's noses. It was all secretive."
    The question still remains if appointing Southerton was even legal since there was no advertisement placed for the job.
    "I think they can," said Henry following Monday's meeting when asked if they could hire someone without advertising.
    Ironically, later in the meeting Brennan made a motion to hire Justin Doney, son of public works director Rich Doney, for a position in that department.
    When pressed on the issue by the mayor, Brennan did say the position was properly advertised.
    That means the position for a $10 per hour part-time laborer was advertised for but the position for a $45,000 a year police commissioner was not.
    Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel for the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, says the entire episode "raises legal issues."
    For one, she said "creating" a position within the police department and "filling" the position are two separate issues.
    In creating the position, she said there are "certain processes" which have to be followed according to state law relating to boroughs. Those include rank, responsibilities and other matters.
    Part of the state's Sunshine Act requires that designating a position such as police commissioner is required to be done at a public meeting and with public comment.
    The agenda for Monday's meeting made no mention of the position of police commissioner. The motion was made following a discussion after the letter from the Civil Service Commission was read, informing council they would not recommend Southerton to take a test to become protected under civil service rules. They said he was not eligible since he is not a certified police officer in the state.
    Page 5 of 5 - That came under the "correspondence and other communications" portion of the meeting.
    The agenda item was, "Civil Service Commission — letter regarding police chief nominee."
    No item appeared which specifically said police commissioner and the first anyone heard of it was during Brennan's formal motion, which had been crafted prior to the meeting.
    That motion read: "I move to rescind the discretionary nomination of Richard Southerton to the Honesdale Borough Civil Service Commission and to name Richard Southerton as Honesdale Borough Police Commissioner on a one-year probationary status at a salary of $45,000, effectively immediately, and that as police commissioner he shall exercise full and complete command and control of the Honesdale Borough Police Department."
    That motion was drafted by solicitor Henry and was dated Monday. It indicates it was sent from Henry's office via facsimile to Brennan. No other names appear on the motion.
    For Langendoerfer, the entire episode is something he says has been unnecessary and he believes the taxpayers will pay the ultimate price in the form of lawsuits generated by the police union.
    The mayor did thank Kominski for his service to the borough since being named officer in charge in July.
    "I want to thank Ron for filling in for the police chief," said Langendoerfer.
    He said Kominski did what "was best for the community" in his time running the department.
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