HONESDALE — The Honesdale Borough Civil Service Commission on Tuesday declined to move forward with any action involving the council's choice for a new police chief.
The commission conducted a meeting and went immediately into executive session. After emerging, commission chairman Pat Siejk read aloud a statement which had been prepared by an attorney. That attorney was consulted by the commission after money was approved by the borough council during its last meeting.
In essence, the statement says the commission will not do any testing of Rick Southerton, the person chosen by the council to be the new police chief.
Southerton is not Act 120 certified by the state, which is a requirement for a person to become a police officer. Southerton, a former FBI agent, has said he intends to get that certification, which could take several months.
The board passed a motion which, in essence, confirmed the statement which was read. They also voted to send copies of the letter to the council and Southerton.
Following is the letter in its entirety:
"Mr. Richard G. Southerton was referred by Council to the Civil Service Commission for the purpose of having the Commission administer a non-competitive test to Mr. Southerton. If a candidate successfully completes this non-competitive test, he or she is referred back to the Borough Council and it is the decision of the Borough Council as to whether or not that individual will be afford (sic) civil service protection.
The Commission is not the appointing authority for the position of the Chief of Police. The Commission's duty and charge is limited to the provision of a non-competitive test to those persons forwarded to the Commission provided that those persons are qualified. If the candidate is not qualified or if the candidates does not successfully complete the non-competitive test, this merely means that the candidate is not yet qualified for civil service protection, not that the candidate is ineligible for Borough employment.
Further, since the non-competitive test conveying civil service may be administered at any time, a determination that Mr. Southerton is not qualified at this time does not preclude him from a later examination if his qualifications change. Further, a determination that Mr. Southerton is not qualified at this time to sit for the non-competitive test does not affect Mr. Southerton's employment by the Borough, merely the question of whether or not he is presently entitled to receive civil service protection.
As such, under the provisions of the Rules and Regulations of the Civil Service Commission and under the provisions of Section 1183(a) of the Borough Code, the Commission is declining to provide a non-competitive examination to Mr. Southerton until he is a "police officer" as that term is defined in Pennsylvania statutes and regulations.
This is not a ruling on the question of whether or not Mr. Southerton may continue as the administrative head of the Police Department. In fact, the Commission is without any power to make such a determination. The Commission assumes that Mr. Southerton is acting as a Public Safety Director and is aware of other circumstances factually similar to this that exist or have previously existed in the Commonwealth.
Accordingly, the Commission wishes to make clear that it is not, in any way, taking a position on Mr. Southerton's suitability, technical knowledge or leadership qualities. Nor is the Commission either explicitly or implicitly criticizing Council's decision to hire Mr. Southerton. The Commission is merely interpreting the civil service provisions of the Borough Code as well as its Rules and Regulations and applying that interpretation to the present facts."
Where that leaves the council remains a mystery.
It's closing in on three months now since the council approved Sgt. Ron Kominski to be the officer in charge of the department. Kominski was an applicant for the chief's job.
The civil service commission's meeting on Tuesday was only the second time they have gathered since the announcement by the council of selecting Southerton.
During the only other meeting, it was called to order and Siejk read a statement the meeting had not been properly advertised and simply walked out of the room.
He then gave his letter of resignation to the secretary at borough hall.
However, Siejk then announced he was having a change of heart and during a special council meeting, it was announced he would be staying on as chairman.
That led to Tuesday's meeting of the group and the subsequent statement prepared by a lawyer.
Mayor Ed Langendoerfer, the liaison between the council and police department, said he is unsure what is going to happen next.
"I've heard nothing from the council," said Langendoerfer. "I have no idea what's going to happen. I wish the council would step up and make things work."
Bob Jennings, chairman of the borough's safety committee, said on Wednesday he had not yet received a copy of the letter.
"I don't know anything about it," said Jennings.