A large crowd is expected at Tuesday's Coaldale Borough Council meeting to oppose the Feb. 14 furlough of all three of the town's full-time police officers. But council has denied a petition to hold the meeting in a larger venue rather than the small borough hall meeting room.
"We feel it is very important that each person attending this meeting be able to hear what is being discussed and be able to have their voice heard. The present room at borough hall is much too small and only allows a handful of people to see and hear the proceedings," the petition states.
Ruth and Thomas Weiss, along with borough business owner Deb Danchak, crafted the petition, which asks that the meeting be moved to the fire hall, Coaldale complex or the Angela Theatre. The Weiss' then put the petition on a counter in their restaurant, and gathered 37 signatures in one day. The couple sent the petition to council, via certified mail, and received a telephone call on March 5 from the borough secretary relaying a message from council president Susan Solt denying the request.
"We just feel comfortable holding the meeting where we always do, at borough hall," Solt said recently. "We understand that people will be coming to the meeting, and we'll hear their concerns."
Council said it made the decision to furlough the police officers Sgt. Keith Krapf, Criminal Investigator Todd Weiss and Officer Charles Blesse as well as two borough workers, to cut costs.
At the same meeting, council adopted a 2012 budget that levies a 2.5 mill tax increase.
Without the full-time officers, all of whom have worked for the borough for years, Coaldale will rely on Chief Timothy Delaney and four part-timers. State police at Frackville are providing coverage four days a week.
According the current police contract council was still negotiating a new contract when it furloughed the officers any police officer who is laid off has first rights to any open shifts.
"A lot of the older people are upset," Ruth Weiss said. "They know the full-time police officers, and the officers know them."
Thomas Weiss adds that the officers "know people's habits. If they don't see someone around for awhile, they check on them to make sure they're safe," he said.
Ruth Weiss tells of an officer who knew one elderly woman never left her porch light on late at night. When he saw that it was very late and the light was on, he knocked on the door to check that she wasn't ill or in trouble. As it turned out, the woman had left the light on because she was expecting a visit from her daughter. Weiss said the woman appreciated the officer's concern.
"They notice little things like that, like lights being on, or off, when they usually are not," she said.
She also noted that two of the officers own homes in the borough.
The Weiss' said people are also upset that they had no say in council's decision to furlough the officers.
None of the petitioners have anything against part-time police officers, Ruth Weiss said. But they question whether the borough can maintain the same standard of safety.
"I just hope and pray nobody gets hurt," she said.