In the latest development in police matters in Mahoning Township, supervisors met in executive session for about a half-hour during Monday night's meeting during which some loud voices could be heard at times, before returning to abruptly move to accept the resignation of Police Chief Kenneth Barnes effective Dec. 20. Barnes has been on medical leave since Feb. 14. The motion was accepted unanimously.
The supervisors gave no reason for the resignation, and when pressed, Chairman John Wieczorek offered no explanation.
Regardless of the action, problems between Barnes and the supervisors have been documented in meeting minutes throughout the last year.
It was almost a year ago the TIMES NEWS reported in a Dec. 14, 2011 story that Barnes was planning to sue township supervisors for allegedly creating a hostile work environment and interfering in his ability to perform the duties of his job.
Late last year the Bureau of Labor and Industry received a pair of complaints from Barnes indicating that the workplace was unsafe and created health issues for employees who worked inside, due to township vehicles being stored and serviced inside the building. This occurred a month or two before Barnes' intention to sue the supervisors was made public. Wieczorek, along with Supervisors Linda Benner and Frank Ruch, are named in the suit as defendants.
In recent years, the township was a literal revolving door of part-time officers being hired and leaving the township. One full-time officer was dismissed with no comment, only to be reinstated after arbitration. In addition, there were also scheduling issues between the chief and supervisors.
Last summer, supervisors held meetings with police officers to work through some issues on policy and procedures that were brought to their attention.
At one point, former supervisor Travis Steigerwalt alleged the board violated the Sunshine Law by illegally meeting with the police without notifying the board or the public. This allegation to date was never followed through with any legal formality.
Within two months of the initial story of Barnes' intention to sue reaching the TIMES NEWS, the chief was placed on medical leave for an indefinite period of time with no explanation.
About two weeks after Barnes began his leave, supervisors appointed Officer Audie Mertz as the officer-in-charge.
Mertz has been running the police department ever since.
Several weeks ago Barnes, in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia, filed suit against the township and three Mahoning officials, seeking financial damages and reinstatement.