— The chairman of the Honesdale Civil Service Commission has resigned.
John Siejk resigned last Friday, apparently after presiding over his last meeting which lasted less than a minute.
At that meeting, Siejk read a brief statement saying the board had been advised not to have the meeting because proper notice was not given.
But fellow board member Bill McAllister said he had no idea that was going to happen and he had not been consulted.
The borough council recently approved $1,000 for the commission to use to get legal advice. What advice has been given is not known, though Siejk did say in the statement legal counsel advised against having the meeting.
"Please accept this letter as notification that I am resigning from the Civil Service Commission effective September 20, 2103," said Siejk in the letter. "I would like to thank the Borough Council for the opportunity to serve on the Commission. And, I appreciate the support you have given me."
The resignation comes during a major controversy surrounding the selection of a new police chief for the borough.
The meeting on Friday, which according to a lawyer for the state's newspaper association was properly advertised, was supposed to be a formal interview by the board of Rick Southerton, who was the person recommended by the council as the new chief.
But getting that interview done, which is required by state law, has proven to be difficult.
The law requires the commission to conduct an interview and then make a recommendation back to the council. What would happen if the commission did not recommend the candidate remains in question and is presumably part of the legal advice sought from counsel.
In the meantime, Sgt. Ron Kominski continues to run the department as the officer in charge.
Kominski was appointed by the council as the officer in charge following the resignation of former chief Joe LoBasso, who has taken a job with the Wayne Highlands School District.
Page 2 of 4 - With the resignation of Siejk, that leaves McAllister and Mike Augello as the two remaining board members, which does constitute a quorum.
Augello did not attend Friday's brief meeting but was downstairs at borough hall.
McAllister is the vice-chairman of the committee so he will presumably become the new chairman.
"I am not sure what's going to transpire now," said McAllister on Monday morning. "Nobody is saying anything."
McAllister confirmed he was not even aware that Siejk was going to resign.
"I didn't know he had submitted his resignation," said McAllister.
McAllister said he is unsure if the commission can do anything before the borough council appoints a new member to the board. The council does not meet again until Oct. 8.
"I know nothing," said Honesdale Mayor Ed Langendoerfer, the liaison between the council and the police department.
Langendoerfer said a decision needs to be made so the borough can "go forward."
He believes the borough council should be calling a meeting to address the situation.
"I'm in limbo," said the mayor. "The police department is in limbo."
He also thinks the situation is unfair to Kominski.
"Ron is the acting chief and he's not sure if he's going to be the acting chief for two years or what," said Langendoerfer.
The mayor is also concerned about the fact the department is operating very shorthanded.
Presently, there are only five full-time officers, including Kominski.
With the departure of LoBasso and recent retirement of Sgt. Don Bishop, the mayor says the department is understaffed and they are relying on part-time officers.
Page 3 of 4 - That, he says, makes the department "reactive instead of proactive."
It also worries the mayor that Southerton is not Act 120 certified, meaning he could not perform the regular duties of an officer, including the powers of arrest. Southerton has said he intends to get certified, however, that process takes many months.
Langendoerfer says it "doesn't take a rocket scientist" to realize what happens when an administrator is put in place instead of a police chief.
"All you have to do is look at Scranton or Carbondale or Dunmore," said the mayor.
Langendoerfer stressed that has nothing to do with the character or capabilities of Southerton, rather how a police department functions in a small town like Honesdale.
"The people who suffer are the taxpayers," said Langendoerfer.
He said should an administrator be hired, the department would still have to have seven full-time officers to properly cover the borough on a 24-hours, 365-days basis.
That would mean replacing the two officers who have left as well as having the salary of an administrator.
"They need to think about the taxpayers," said the mayor, referring to the members of the council.
Langendoerfer said he is "more than willing" to have a public discussion about the entire situation in order to "work this out."
But he fears since there has been a lot of silence on the part of the council, the matter could end up being an issue with the police union, which he says would cost the taxpayers a lot of money.
Union members have said they are considering all options but have been waiting on the outcome of the police commission meeting.
However, with that meeting seemingly on hold, it could change the stance of the union and what actions are taken.
Page 4 of 4 - Those actions could include grievances and lawsuits which the mayor said will come straight out of the pockets of the borough taxpayers.
Already, that appears to be the case when it comes to Det. Sgt. Sean LeStrange. LeStrange filed a grievance on Sept. 4 alleging he should qualify for higher pay since he has been doing the job of lieutenant.
The complaint says that according to the current contract, because has served in that capacity for more than 30 days, he would be given the correct pay according to the guidelines. That pay should be retroactive to Aug. 15, the grievance says.
The grievance was filed with the borough secretary on Sept. 4. The council met on Sept. 9 but no action was taken.
They did take action, however, on another grievance filed by Bishop concerning health insurance coverage. In that instance, the council did vote to approve what was sought by Bishop. That grievance was filed on Aug. 30.