The regular meeting of the Borough Council Monday night was peppered with input from citizens concerned about the goings on in the Honesdale Police Department.
The regular meeting of the Borough Council Monday night was peppered with input from citizens concerned about the goings on in the Honesdale Police Department. A point of contention for council surrounded a meeting called by Jim Brennan, who was Vice President of council at the time. From the gate, the first item on the agenda was cause for discussion and dissension among council. When it came time to vote on the minutes of five previous meetings, one meeting was a sticking point. An "emergency meeting" was called for Jan. 3 to hire three part-time police officers, Brennan said. These officers were needed to cover shifts that were open due to others having time off. Council member Tiffany Kominski objected to approving the minutes of the emergency meeting, saying that that meeting "was, in fact, an illegal meeting." Kominski went on to read from the Pennsylvania Freedom of Information Coalition (PaFOIC) Sunshine Act. "An emergency meeting is defined as 'A meeting called for the purpose of dealing with a real or potential emergency involving a clear and present danger to life or property,'" she said. "It violates the Sunshine Act. It will probably go to legal proceedings." Brennan responded by saying that he "declared an emergency," and not having enough police officers to cover shifts "was a matter of an emergency." Mayor Ed Langendoerfer offered input on the meeting situation as well. "Hiring those officers was on the agenda for the Dec. 30, 2013 meeting and then it was put off," Langendoerfer said. "In my eyes, it wasn't an emergency." "If you feel I acted inappropriately, I'm sorry," Brennan said. He added that now there is "a five day jump" in the hiring process for the officers. Police Commissioner Rick Southerton was not present at the Monday meeting. When a vote was taken, council members Carolyn Laurent, Kominski, Scott Smith, and vice president Bill Canfield voted against approving the minutes of the Jan. 3 meeting. Brennan and council members Bob Jennings and Juanita Pisano voted in favor of approving those minutes. Vocal public comment The public input portion of the meeting was very vocal Monday night, with many citizens voicing concerns about how the borough is currently being handled. Jill Hessling commented on various issues within the borough. Hessling asked Brennan, "When we are already paying for a Police Commissioner, why are we paying for him to become certified for Act 120 plus mileage?" Smith responded that with the contract with the police, "if they don't have Act 120, the borough foots the bill." He added that it has been "a number of years" since the borough has paid for an officer to become Act 120 certified. Kominski said her research showed that the last time the borough paid for a person to become certified, a grant was used. "If we didn't get a grant, the borough would have still had to pay for it," Smith said. Another point of contention surrounded the participation of borough police on the Wayne County Drug Task Force. "Why is it that our police have not been to the last two meetings of the (Wayne County) Drug Task force?" "I got a call from the District Attorney (Janine Edwards) informing me that there weren't any officers at the meeting," Langendoerfer said. It was determined that the police were asked not to attend by Southerton. "Personally, I don't think it should be a question," of whether or not to participate, he said. Hessling closed her time at the podium by commenting on the council as a whole. "It appears that you people have no respect or regard for the public. You don't care what you do or what you say. It is not right what you people do," she said. Kominski thanked Hessling for her comment and said that she has witnessed that behavior "in the council office." "I have looked in to some things," she said. "I will be working with an attorney to legally adopt a code of ethics and conduct for all council members." Officer back on duty Discussion of why Police Officer Ron Kominski was not back in the saddle was another hot-button issue for citizens and council. Canfield said that "Ron Kominski has been released to come back to work, he is released for light duty." Once the paperwork was submitted to Southerton, he was informed that there "is nothing available." Brennan said that he "was not informed" of this incident until Monday's meeting. Smith said, "when someone is released, there is no reason they can't come back to work." Solicitor Rich Henry said, "As far as I know, there is no light duty provision." Canfield pushed the issue, saying "Why hire a $12/hr secretary when you have a qualified police officer ready to return to work? Eliminate the secretary position and bring Ron back for light duty." Henry suggested council "get clarification from workers compensation insurance to see if he is covered or not." "We have a policy with our insurance that if anybody gets hurt, it is our practice to have that person back," Smith said. Resident Sandy DeGroat spoke up in defense of Kominski and asked council bluntly to provide a job description regarding exactly what the Police Commissioner does. "The commissioner is a glorified secretary," she said. "You sit there and tell me what he does." "I've been asking for four months and still haven't gotten an answer," Langendoerfer. Brennan then instructed borough secretary Judy Poltanis to read, verbatim, the three-page job description for a "Police Chief/Police Commissioner." That document includes duties like setting policies, paperwork and training. "Southerton is a good person trying to do what's best in a bad situation he was put in by council," Langendoerfer said. He also said prior police chiefs "have done all that plus secretary work. The issue is all of the grievances filed and unfair labor practice lawsuits. It puts in the citizens and the taxpayers in a vulnerable situation." Tiffany Kominski said during her first full week as a council member, she has met with the police department multiple times and observed how it functions. "The men underneath him are doing this. It's not their job to train him. He is not doing these duties," she said. She also said to Brennan "you are in charge of them, but you're not sitting with them" making sure Southerton is doing his job. "I don't know where these ideas are coming from that I don't appreciate the Honesdale Police Department," Brennan said. "I wasn't visiting the department six or eight months ago because they are doing their job." Langendoerfer added that, "Our officers have been demoralized over the past six or seven months. You say he (Southerton) is qualified and he is not. All these things have put us in a bad situation." Langendoerfer said Tuesday that Ron Kominski reported for light duty Jan. 14. Change on horizon Despite the vocal battles between council members and the citizens, Langendoerfer said Tuesday this type of conversation is a good thing. "I think it was positive because there are a lot of things that we discussed in the meeting that need to be discussed. Some of it isn't comfortable, and in the past, council wouldn't even talk about it. I think having the three new members seating will at least allow things to be discussed." The conclusion of the Honesdale Borough meeting will appear in tomorrow's edition.