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Wayne Independent - Honesdale, PA
  • Police allege unfairness; union files action over police situation

  • HONESDALE — The Honesdale Police Officers Association has filed an unfair labor practices action against Honesdale Borough.
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  • HONESDALE — The Honesdale Police Officers Association has filed an unfair labor practices action against Honesdale Borough.
    The action was filed last Tuesday.
    Attorney Stephen J. Holroyd from the law firm of Jennings Sigmond in Philadelphia filed the action and it was received at borough hall on Friday.
    The action is in relation to the recent hiring of Rick Southerton as police commissioner for the borough.
    That hiring came after councilman Jim Brennan suddenly withdrew Southerton's name as a police chief candidate and abruptly made a motion to hire him as police commissioner.
    The matter was not discussed prior to the council meeting and there was no public discussion about hiring a police commissioner.
    No job description was given for the position either.
    That has drawn the ire of many local residents as well as Mayor Ed Langendoerfer, who is now demanding a public meeting to discuss the issue.
    Langendoerfer on Monday said he made a formal request to council president F.J. Monaghan, asking for a public meeting.
    The mayor is asking that all council members be present along with Southerton and the borough police officers.
    "There is not even a job description," said Langendoerfer.
    He said the police officers have no direction in how to even train Southerton, not to mention what they can train him for and what may not be part of the job of commissioner.
    "How can you train someone when there is no job description?" said the mayor.
    Langendoerfer has been openly at odds with members of the council and believes they did not act properly in deciding to hire a police commissioner.
    "When did they decide that?" he said. "There was no public discussion."
    He said a motion was simply made and passed by the council to create the position.
    Part of that is the basis for the unfair labor practices filing by the union.
    Here are the specifications of the charges filed on behalf of the union against the borough:
    1. The Honesdale Police Officers Association is, pursuant to the provision of the Act 111 and Pennsylvania Labor Relations Act, the exclusive collective bargaining representative for all police officers employed by the Borough of Honesdale.
    2. At all material times, the Chief of Police has been a member of the bargaining unit, and has been covered by the various collective bargaining agreements between the parties.
    3. Several moths ago, the Police Chief retired, and was not immediately replaced.
    4. On October 14, 2013, the Borough appointed Rick Southerton to the heretofore nonexistent position of Police Commissioner.
    Page 2 of 3 - 5. The position of Police Commissioner is not covered by the collective bargaining agreement, nor was the creation of this new position negotiated with the association.
    6. In addition, immediately upon his appointment, "Commission" Southerton began performing all of the duties that had been previously performed by the bargaining unit position of Police Chief.
    7. Specifically, functions such as scheduling, reviewing of case files, assignment of officers and other duties had been traditionally and historically performed exclusively by the Police Chief, a member of the bargaining unit, were now being performed by the newly-created Police Commissioner.
    8. This assignment of bargaining unit work to the Police Commissioner was not agreed to by the Association, nor did the Borough negotiate the assignment of such work with the Association.
    9. By the above acts, the Borough has violated the aforesaid provisions of the Act.
    The issue of hiring of a police chief has been on the front burner in Honesdale for more than three months. Following the announcement that Chief Joe LoBasso was taking a job with the Wayne Highlands School District, it appears some on the council had moved in the direction of hiring someone from outside the department.
    In fact, during one closed-door meeting, Monaghan produced the resume of Southerton and told council members he would be the best choice for a new chief.
    Though nothing happened at that meeting, Southerton was hired at a subsequent meeting following 15-minute interviews of nine potential candidates, including Sgt. Ron Kominski.
    Kominski was placed in charge of the department by the council when LoBasso left.
    Then, local Magistrate Ted Mikulak became involved in the controversy when he requested and was granted a closed-door session to complain about Kominski and the police department in general.
    Kominski then filed a private criminal action against each member of the council claiming they had violated the state's Sunshine Law. That case was heard before Magistrate Bonnie Carney in Hawley and she found them all guilty as charged.
    Each was ordered to pay a $100 fine. Any subsequent violations could result in fines up to $1,000 per council member.
    Less than an hour after they were all found guilty, the Honesdale Civil Service Commission conducted a meeting to consider the nomination of Southerton as police chief.
    The commission declined to administer a test to Southerton, saying he was not certified to be a police officer in Pennsylvania. According to the by-laws of the commission, a person has to be a certified police officer in order to apply for the position of police chief.
    It was after that when the council made its decision to hire Southerton as police commissioner.
    An email was sent to the attorney representing the police union but there was no response.
    Page 3 of 3 - Lindsay Bracale of the Department of Labor and Industry said the next step in the process is for an analysis to be done and a determination will be made if a cause exists to move forward.
    If it is found there is just cause, a hearing will be set. That would be done in two to three weeks.

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