The Honesdale Borough Council on Wednesday recommended hiring Rick Southerton as its new police chief.
The motion was to nominate Southerton to the Civil Service Commission.
Southerton will now have to be considered by the Civil Service Commission in Honesdale before any final approval to become chief.
The 6-0 vote (councilman Scott Smith left the meeting early) came after the board had interviewed nine potential candidates for the job. Each interview lasted just 15 minutes.
But just how the Civil Service Commission will handle the situation remains unclear.
Commission member Bill McAllister said the process is supposed to be that the commission interviews the candidate and then makes a recommendation to the full council.
He said it is generally a "rubber stamp," but said this case could be different given the events leading up to Wednesday's decision.
"There is too much closed-door stuff," said McAllister. "We will have to discuss the nomination and go from there."
The commission will have to advertise a meeting in which to interview Southerton. That meeting will be open to the public.
Other members of the commission are Jack Siejk and Mike Augello.
McAllister called the entire situation "very frustrating."
Southerton is a former agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation and is currently a member of the Texas Township Board of Supervisors.
The recommendation comes on the heels of much controversy surrounding the position of chief which became vacant when Joe LoBasso took a job with the Wayne Highlands School District.
It also comes amid ongoing contract negotiations between the borough and the Honesdale Police Officers Association (HPOA). The selection of Southerton could have a major impact on the contract talks, according to a union spokesman.
Page 2 of 7 - Sgt. Don Bishop said last week the union is considering grievance procedures and even lawsuits against the borough. That, he said, depended on the actions of the council this week.
Bishop had urged the council to hire from within the current police ranks. He claims that anyone hired from the outside would only be an administrative chief, according to union rules.
He said last week that if the council does go outside of the department, legal action is being considered. The union members did meet with their attorney recently to discuss the hiring of the chief as well as the negotiations process.
"I'm concerned about the costs and the ramifications of what is to come," said Mayor Ed Langendoerfer, who acts as the liaison between the council and police department. "It's all going to fall on the taxpayers."
A call was placed Thursday to council member Jim Brennan to comment about the nomination of Southerton.
Brennan made the motion for Southerton and it was seconded by Juanita Pisano.
Brennan did not return a call to the newspaper.
"That disturbs me, too," said Langendoerfer. "If they truly believe Rick Southerton is the guy, they should say why they voted for him."
Pisano did return the call late Thursday afternoon and said she felt Southerton "was the best man for the job."
Langendoerfer pointed out that no discussion took place after the nomination was made during the meeting.
The mayor also said he has "nothing against" Southerton and said if he indeed is the chief, he will "support him."
But, said the mayor, the process which has taken place is the biggest problem and he can't understand why the council has taken certain actions in the process.
Page 3 of 7 - Another issue which has swirled in recent weeks is the fact local Magistrate Ted Mikulak is no longer handling cases from the Honesdale Borough Police Department.
An order was signed in March by Judge Raymond Hamill moving all new Honesdale cases to Magistrate Ron Edwards.
Why that happened is not clear and there is no supporting paperwork in the case file indicating the reasoning.
District Attorney Janine Edwards had not comment on that situation.
That troubles McAllister, who thinks this is the biggest issue in the entire situation.
"I would like to know what is behind the magistrate situation and Hamill's decision to change magistrates," said McAllister.
He said that single issue could lead to a lot of answers about what has been happening with the police department and magistrate and may also have a bearing on the hiring of a new chief.
Mikulak has also been the subject of controversy when he was allowed to go into an executive session with the borough council recently.
At that meeting, Langendoerfer said Mikulak began criticizing the Honesdale police and Sgt. Ron Kominski, who is the acting chief and was also a candidate for the chief's position.
Kominski was not aware the meeting was going to happen and was not given notice. State law clearly states that if someone is going to be the subject of a personnel discussion, that person has to be given 24 hours notice. They also have the right to request the meeting be open to the public.
Kominiski said he would have requested an open meeting.
Another point of controversy came at another executive session when the subject matter was supposed to be police negotiations.
However, according to Langendoerfer and councilman Jennings, the resume of Southerton was presented by council president F.J. Monaghan. It was passed out to all the council members, according to the mayor.
Page 4 of 7 - Southerton said Thursday he "read in the paper" about the resignation of LoBasso. At that point, he said he contacted the borough and then dropped off a one-page resume.
He said apparently it was taken "to executive session."
Southerton said he then re-wrote the resume and that was what was submitted to the entire council.
"That is how it got there first," said Southerton. "I didn't know what else to do."
Another issue which has surfaced involves certification through Act 120.
Under Pennsylvania code, any person employed as a municipal police officer in the commonwealth is required to have successfully completed a 785.5 hour course of instruction covering all areas of police work.
Langendoerfer said that as of now, Southerton does not have that certification.
Southerton, in an interview late Thursday afternoon, acknowledged he is not Act 120 certified.
According to the Pennsylvania Police Academy website, someone taking the course full time will require five to six months. For part-time, it takes 11 months to a year.
Cost for the course is a little over $4,500. Classes are offered in Scranton. The next part-time classes start in November of this year and end in October 2014. Full-time classes start in February 2014 and end in July of that year.
"My understanding is that the chief does not have to be 120 certified," said Southerton.
However, Southerton said he intends to get Act 120 certified.
He said there is a new process which has been approved in which certain people can get a partial waiver of training. One of those is being a retired FBI agent who has been through the FBI academy.
Page 5 of 7 - Southerton has been through the academy.
He said by getting the waiver, the certification can be trimmed to around 240 hours instead of more than 780.
Southerton said he is currently in the process of applying for that waiver.
When asked if he would be joining the police union, Southerton said it is his understanding the council doesn't want the chief to be a member of the union.
"They don't want a chief in the union right now," said Southerton.
He said that was "his understanding" of what the council was seeking.
"They want an administrator," he said. "That is my impression."
That troubles Langendoerfer, who said it would mean the chief would be nothing more than an administrator and would not even have access to sensitive documents or the computer system.
No public discussion has ever taken place by the council concerning its desire to have an administrative chief.
Pisano said she did "not have an idea" how long it would take for the certification to take place.
She was also asked about whether the council sought an administrative chief or a working chief.
"Whatever Mr. Southerton is comfortable with," said Pisano. "There are still some things which need to be worked out."
As for taking over as the chief, Southerton said he doesn't want to go into the job "with any preconceived notions."
Southerton said he wants to know more about what appears to be "bad blood" among many of the people involved in the issue. He also said he wants to know more about the situation with the magistrate and if, as chief, there is anything he can do to make it better.
Page 6 of 7 - Negotiations process
Another issue considered by the council on Wednesday had to do with the ongoing police negotiations.
Last week, the borough received a letter from attorney Thomas W. Jennings of Philadelphia saying he has been designated by the local union as an arbitrator.
During Wednesday's meeting, Smith said it is by law that the two sides have to choose arbitrators. There are certain conditions which take place and all of those have been met, said Smith.
"If they believe there could be an impasse, they appoint an arbitrator," said Smith.
That's exactly what happened with the letter from Jennings.
"You are further notified that the Honesdale Borough Police Officers Association does hereby request that a Board of Arbitration be convened for the purpose of resolving the issues in dispute separating the parties," states the letter to the borough council.
Smith said since the lawyer was named a member of the arbitration team, the borough then has to choose someone to be a part of the panel. Those two then attempt to choose a third person who acts as the "neutral party," said Smith.
He said if they can't agree on an arbitrator within 10 days, then it goes to the American Arbitrators Association which selects a person. It will cost the borough $750 for that process.
The problem, however, is the borough hadn't been able to find someone as of Wednesday night.
Smith said attorney Tony Waldron of Hawley was contacted and had shown an interest. However, Smith said the attorney hadn't returned several calls.
Smith said borough solicitor Rich Henry is not eligible to be an arbitrator because he sometimes deals with police department issues.
He did say that Henry had provided him with a list of potential arbitrators.
Page 7 of 7 - Smith suggested the council appoint a sub-committee and give that group the authority to appoint an arbitrator.
Council members Harry DeVrieze, Smith and Bob Jennings were appointed to the committee. A motion to give the committee authority to select an arbitrator passed unanimously.