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Wayne Independent - Honesdale, PA
  • Commission yet to set meeting

  • It remains unclear when the Honesdale Civil Service Commission will conduct its next meeting.
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  • — It remains unclear when the Honesdale Civil Service Commission will conduct its next meeting.
    And that meeting is highly anticipated because it centers around the recent appointment of a new police chief in the borough.
    Borough secretary Judy Poltanis said Monday afternoon she had not received any notice from the commission members about the upcoming meeting. The notice has to be advertised before the meeting can take place.
    The meeting is highly anticipated because it is expected to feature an interview with Rick Southerton, the former FBI agent who was recently recommended by the borough council to be the new chief.
    Under standard operating procedures, the Civil Service Commission conducts an interview with the candidate and then makes a recommendation to the council.
    But this situation is anything but standard with controversy swirling around the appointment of Southerton and, more particularly, the events leading up to the appointment.
    Those events included a pair of executive sessions which Mayor Ed Langendoerfer says were improper. The mayor says during one of those sessions, council president F.J. Monaghan was attempting to sway the council to choose Southerton, a move opposed by the Honesdale Police Officers Association (HPOA).
    Sgt. Don Bishop told the council in a public meeting the HPOA wanted members to choose someone already on the force to become the next chief.
    The mayor says Monaghan handed out the resume of Southerton in executive session and said he was willing to take the vote that night. That did not happen.
    In the meantime, Sgt. Rom Kominski, who has been running the department after being appointed officer in charge by the council, has filed a private court action against the individual council members saying they violated the state's Sunshine Law.
    Kominski was an applicant for the job.
    But the most important aspect of the situation seems to revolve around the next step, which is the meeting of the Civil Service Commission.
    Page 2 of 4 - It remains unclear what might happen if that group decides not to recommend Southerton for the job.
    At the last council meeting, the commission requested and was granted $1,000 to seek legal counsel. Though it was not made specific at the time, the funds are for members to clarify the exact role of the commission, according to member Bill McAllister.
    It is not clear if the commission members have contacted legal counsel regarding this matter.
    In a previous interview, McAllister said he was concerned about the entire situation, noting there has been a lot of closed door discussions among the council members and others.
    Another factor is the qualifications which are required for the job of police chief.
    According to state law, police officers have to be Act 102 Certified in order to conduct normal duties. Those include the power of arrest, being able to patrol and many other functions.
    Southerton has said he is not certified, however, he also said he is working on getting the certification.
    Langendoerfer questions whether the council is looking for a certified person to be chief or if they are seeking an administrator.
    Even council members seem unclear as to the direction they want to go with a new chief.
    Member Juanita Pisano said in a recent interview: "Whatever Mr. Southerton is comfortable with. There are still some things which need to be worked out."
    At the most recent meeting of the council, Langendoerfer questioned the status of the entire situation.
    "What is the timetable for the police chief?" asked the mayor.
    Monaghan said Southerton still has to go in front of the Civil Service Commission.
    He said once that happens, the council will then either call a special meeting to hire Southerton or wait until the next regular council meeting, which will be Oct. 14.
    Page 3 of 4 - Langendoerfer also asked what "capacity" Southerton would serve in as chief.
    Monaghan said that still has to be determined by the council.
    The mayor believes the council should have established a firm direction before even interviewing candidates for chief.
    He said the borough has traditionally employed a working chief who does patrols and all other aspect of police duties.
    The mayor said if the council appointed an administrative chief, it has a lot of ramifications.
    One is the fact the borough would have to hire a working officer to replace the chief's position. Former Chief Joe LoBasso and Kominski performed routine police duties, including patrols and investigations. Kominski has done the same since taking over the department.
    Another situation which troubles the mayor, he said, is the fact an administrative chief would not be able to have access to much of the information at the police department. He said that would include computer access, file access, records, evidence and much more.
    Langendoerfer emphasized he has "nothing against" Southerton but feels the council should have outlined what it wanted before conducting interviews and hiring a new chief.
    Council members all received resumes of the nine candidates who applied for the chief's position.
    According to councilman Jim Brennan, those resumes were studied by members before interviews were conducted. Those interviews took place on Aug. 4 and were 15 minutes each.
    Following those interviews, Brennan made the motion to recommend Southerton as the new chief. It passed 6-0 with councilman Scott Smith not present. Smith was present for the interviews but left the meeting early.
    Another factor which has been a central point in the entire debate has to do with Magistrate Ted Mikulak, who had cases from the Honesdale Borough Police Department taken from his court.
    Page 4 of 4 - That order was signed by Judge Raymond Hamill, however, very little paperwork is in the case file. It is not clear why those cases were taken from the judge and nobody is talking about how it happened, including District Attorney Janine Edwards.
    Another issue is the fact Mikulak asked for and was granted an executive session by the borough council. During that session, Langendoerfer said Mikulak began criticizing Kominski and the police department in general. It is that meeting which is the crux of the legal action filed against the council by Kominski.
    Kominski has said publicly if he would have known about the meeting, he would have asked that it be done in public. The state's open records laws are clear that an employee can demand such a meeting be done in public.

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