With Police Chief Kenneth Barnes still on indefinite medical leave, Mahoning Township supervisors voted 4-0, with Supervisor Franklin Ruch absent before the voting, to allow Officer in Charge Audie Mertz to review the backlog of police applicants and perform background checks on them in anticipation of the possibility of hiring some new part-time officers. However, supervisors were explicit in stating that they were not actively hiring anyone at the present time.
"The officer in charge wants to review applications and get things started with paper screenings and background checks," said Chairperson John Wieczorek adding that there would be no interviews at this point. Wieczorek said Mertz just wanted to start looking at what applicants were available and on file.
Supervisor Travis Steigerwalt said he didn't have a problem with him just looking but asked why he was willing to do background checks now when he had refused to do them for the chief several months ago. The question went unanswered.
The decision to start reviewing applications stems from the inference that Mahoning may be having some scheduling issues with part-time officers. This became apparent when Ruch told the board that if they were unable to fill the open shifts, "the state police will have to cover it if we are running into financial issues [with staffing]."
While Steigerwalt seemed to be the only supervisors who had some reservations about authorizing Mertz when it was time for the vote he agreed with the other supervisors to allow the process to begin. Ruch had another commitment and left the meeting a few minutes before the vote was taken.
In other police business, the board received a communication requesting Mahoning Township Police assistance this fall with security at the Lehighton Area School District football games. Wieczorek said the ability to meet the request would depend on staffing and availability within the township's police department in the fall.
Supervisor Linda Benner felt it would be a positive thing to do. "I think it's good for them to work together."
Steigerwalt asked if there should be a policy to cover how it would be handled. "Before we get into this, we might want to make sure it's clear [how this will work] to everyone."
"It would be paid at straight time," Wieczorek commented. "The only misunderstanding the last time was with the chief. The only time we pay overtime for a duty like this is if the duty is actually overtime." Wieczorek was referring to a misunderstanding related back to the township's assistance of Walmart during the last Black Friday shopping.
Finally Wieczorek reported that he will provide a monthly report to Mertz to assist him in compiling his monthly report. He asked Mertz to include a report of time and shifts by month and what is reimbursable to help the supervisors determine the staffing levels required.