— It was a meeting that didn't happen.
What was certainly the most anticipated meeting of the Honesdale Civil Service Commission in a long time, maybe ever, simply ended abruptly on Friday.
That meeting was scheduled for 10 a.m. Friday at borough hall and the focus was going to be the recent recommendation of a new police chief for the borough.
But as soon as the meeting started, commission chairman John Siejk stood up, read a brief statement and promptly walked out of the room. That move even left fellow commission member Bill McAllister speechless.
Siejk said an attorney had been consulted and the advice was to re-advertise the meeting so it would "comply" with the state's Sunshine Act.
"I had no knowledge of it," said McAllister about the sudden cancellation of the meeting.
He said that is apparently what the attorney had advised but he had not spoken at all to Siejk about the situation.
Board member Mike Augello didn't even attend the meeting even though he was spotted downstairs at borough hall just prior to the meeting. It is unclear why he didn't attend the meeting.
Ironically, an attorney who represents newspapers across the state said the meeting was legally advertised.
Paula Knudson, director of legal affairs for the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, was contacted by this newspaper on Thursday about the legal advertisement from the commission.
That advertisement ran in the Thursday edition of this newspaper.
Because The Wayne Independent is a morning paper, Knudsen said the advertisement about the Friday meeting was legal.
Here's a portion of Section 709 of the Sunshine Act:
"An agency shall give public notice of each special meeting or each rescheduled regular or special meeting at least 24 hours in advance of the time of the convening of the meeting specified in the notice."
Page 2 of 4 - The Honesdale Civil Service Commission normally meets at 1 p.m. on the third Friday of each month. Those meetings are advertised at the beginning of each year and are in compliance with the Sunshine Act. No further advertisements are necessary.
It is not clear why the commission called the meeting for 10 a.m. Friday instead of having it at 1 p.m. Had it been held at the regular time, no special advertisement would have been needed.
A call made to Siejk last week from this newspaper has never been returned. McAllister said he has not talked to Siejk about the situation.
During all of this, it is costing the taxpayers of the borough money. The legal advertisements are paid for by the taxpayers and at the last council meeting, the borough approved $1,000 for the commission to get legal advice.
It appears that legal advice was, in part, to not have the meeting. It is not known what other legal advice has been sought.
Before walking out of the meeting, which was attended by many members of the public, Siejk did not say when a new advertisement might be placed or when a meeting might take place.
Honesdale Mayor Ed Langendoerfer, who was at the meeting, was mystified and unhappy following what transpired at the meeting.
"The police department wants to know what is going on," said the mayor, who acts at the liaison between the council and the police department.
The focus of Friday's meeting was supposed to be an interview with Rick Southerton, a former FBI agent who was recommended by the council to be the next police chief. Southerton was at the meeting.
State law requires the Civil Service Commission to conduct such an interview and then make a recommendation to the council.
It remains unclear, however, what would happen if the commission did not recommend hiring a candidate.
Page 3 of 4 - That issue seems to be part of the controversy surrounding the selection of the police chief and the apparent inaction on the part of the civil service commission.
The mayor says the entire episode is ridiculous and, at the very least, the commission should have rescheduled the meeting instead of its chairman walking out after reading a short statement.
"They could have scheduled it for next week and just re-advertised," said Langendoerfer.
But that wasn't the case and, in the meantime, the police department continues to function under officer in charge Sgt. Ron Kominski.
Kominski was appointed by the borough council to that position after the resignation of former chief Joe LoBasso, who took a job with the Wayne Highlands School District. Kominski also applied for the chief's position.
The mayor said the department has functioned just fine under Kominski but he says morale has to be questionable within the department because of the many delays which have happened. Those delays continued on Friday with the cancellation of any action by the civil service commission.
Also at issue are possible grievances or lawsuits which could be coming from the police union. That's on top of ongoing negotiations between the police union and the borough council. The current contract with the police department expires at the end of this year.
Police union members have said they have consulted with attorneys about possible action against the borough given the chain of events which have taken place in the past couple of months.
Any action is likely dependent upon action by the commission and the borough council. However, how long it takes for those groups to take action remains unclear which could likely impact how the union lawyers react.
The mayor says the biggest losers in all of this are the taxpayers. He said should grievances or lawsuits be filed, it will cost the taxpayers no matter the outcome. Langendoerfer points out that legal fees will have to be paid in order to counter such claims.
Page 4 of 4 - In addition, should the borough lose any such claims, it would also cost the taxpayers and it could potentially be a lot of tax dollars.