— A representative of the police union in Honesdale says the process of hiring a new chief could have a bearing on the current contract negotiations.
That process has been the subject of recent controversy with the borough mayor saying it has been handled improperly by the council.
A special meeting was called for Wednesday night by the borough council in which interviews with nine potential candidates were supposed to happen.
However, it appears that part of the meeting was canceled because of a problem with how the meeting was advertised. This story was written Wednesday morning so details of what exactly happened will be in our Friday edition.
Mayor Ed Langendoerfer did confirm with the newspaper on Wednesday the executive session portion of the meeting was canceled for Wednesday night. Three other items to be discussed were scheduled to happen at the meeting, he said.
Sgt. Don Bishop of the Honesdale Police Officers Association (HPOA) said the union is concerned about how the process has worked in selecting a new chief.
Chief Joe LoBasso resigned recently to take a job with the Wayne Highlands School District.
An executive session was held recently in which the resume of former FBI agent Rick Southerton was presented to the council by president F.J. Monaghan, who apparently asked he be considered for the job.
Both Langendoerfer and councilman Bob Jennings confirmed the resume was handed out during the executive session and that it was suggested the council could hire the new chief that night. Both Langendoerfer and Jennings have also said they don't think handing out of the resume was proper procedure, something echoed by the union.
However, following that meeting, the council did decide to advertise for the position of chief.
Then, at a subsequent meeting, Magistrate Ted Mikulak asked for and was granted an executive session which Langendoerfer said should have never happened.
Page 2 of 5 - Langendoerfer is the liaison between the council and police department.
Langendoerfer said the meeting was illegal and he added that Mikulak began speaking harshly about Sgt. Ron Kominski and the police department.
Komiski is one of the nine people who have applied for the job of chief. He is currently the officer in charge of the department after being appointed to that position by council.
During a regular meeting earlier this month, Bishop spoke before the council and urged members to hire the new chief from within the department.
"It has been a long-time tradition in Honesdale that the chief of police is a working chief, meaning that the chief has been a member of the bargaining unit and as such is therefore covered under the contract with the Honesdale Police Officers Association and its collective bargaining agreement," Bishop told the council.
He added: "It has been brought to the attention of the association that the borough is considering hiring someone outside of the bargaining unit to assume the duties of chief of police. While they certainly have the right to do so, we feel that it would not be prudent at this point in time."
Bishop said if the borough council did hire someone from outside of the bargaining unit, that person would "only be able to serve as an administrator and not a working chief."
Bishop confirmed on Tuesday he had spoken with union lawyers about the chief situation and about the negotiations process in general.
"It all depends on what direction they go," said Bishop of the council.
Whether or not the union will file grievances related to the chief's position depends on the actions of the council, said Bishop.
"There are a lot of moving parts here," said Bishop.
He did say they spoke with the union lawyers about the situation of the executive session regarding the local magistrate.
Page 3 of 5 - As a union, he said they "didn't think that it was appropriate to entertain the district judge in an executive session. We are very disappointed in that."
In March of this year, an order was signed by Judge Raymond Hamill which ordered all Honesdale Borough Police Department matters to be taken away form the court of Mikulak and put in the court of Magistrate Ron Edwards.
Very little documentation was in the file of the case. It remains unclear why the cases were taken from the court of Mikulak.
District Attorney Janine Edwards has refused to comment on the case and Bishop said he could not comment, either.
It is known an investigator from the Judicial Conduct Board of Pennsylvania has interviewed several people in this area. The investigator refused to "confirm or deny" any investigation when contacted earlier this year.
From the ranks
Bishop believes the council should choose the next chief from the ranks of the department.
"I see no reason why we can't promote from within," he said. "We have qualified people here."
Bishop is a 25-year member of the department who his retiring next month. He said he's worked with the officers for many years and said they "can do the job" of chief.
He also said the council has let the numbers in the department dwindle over the past few of years and thinks that could be a threat to public safety.
In the last three years, he said Chief Mark Flynn and Lt. Larry Witt both retired and LoBasso has resigned. With his own retirement, he said the department is going from nine full-time officers to just five.
"I am concerned," said Bishop.
He said the last time the department's number were that low was in 1990 when they were down to four officers. He said back then, they were handling about half of the calls for service which take place now.
Page 4 of 5 - He said at that time, one of the officers was the victim of an assault and that's when the council decided to hire more police officers for the force.
"I am concerned that this council is going to wait until an officer is again assaulted, or even worse, before they hire any full-time officers to keep the police department fully staffed and keep the public and the officers safe and continue to provide the same 24 hour, seven days a week service that the citizens of the borough need and deserve," he said to the council.
Another key element which factors into the entire situation is the ongoing contract talks between the council and the union.
The current contract expires Dec. 31.
To date, both sides have said the talks have been going well.
During his public address to the council, Bishop said, "We are very pleased with the results so far."
However, he said that could change given the circumstances surrounding the current situation.
"The time is now to stand up for ourselves," said Bishop.
Bishop said the union has worked well with the council over the past few years, saying they understand the borough is strapped for money.
"But we are all strapped for money," said Bishop.
He said the situation involving the hiring of the chief does come into play when it comes to the negotiations process.
That impact, he said, could be demands by the union that certain provisions be added to the contract. Those could include the status of the chief and whether that person is a member of the union.
He cited case law in Scranton where the contract is very specific and a chief was an administrator only and could not even make arrests.
Page 5 of 5 - Bishop would prefer that not be the case in Honesdale but said it is a possibility if the council goes outside of the ranks to hire an officer.
"It is very discouraging," said Bishop of the ongoing situation. "The legal issues will be examined and looked at."
He said the actions of the council over the next couple of weeks will go a long way in determining if any legal action will be taken, either about the chief's position or the ongoing negotiations.