Ex-Rush Twp. chief has day in court
JOE PLASKO/TIMES NEWS Former Rush Township Chief of Police Robert J. Romanick is sworn in during his police tenure hearing at Hometown Tuesday.
Robert J. Romanick maintains he was fired as Rush Township Chief of Police on Jan. 5, 2009.
The township's board of supervisors claims Romanick quit when he refused to accept a demotion to patrolman prior to the board's reorganization meeting that evening.
Whether Romanick was dismissed or abandoned his job was at issue during a police tenure hearing that continued Tuesday afternoon at the Rush Township Municipal Building, Hometown.
Romanick has not worked in the township since his demotion. He currently serves as officer in charge for Mahanoy Township and is a patrolman in Mahanoy City.
Testimony has now been completed. James Scallion, Lackawanna County, the hearing officer for the proceedings, did not rule on the case Tuesday.
Attorneys for Romanick and the township will now file legal briefs of their final arguments in the case.
Romanick, employed by the township's police department since 1996 and as chief from 2005-09, contended he was not provided with the charges regarding his dismissal as chief and filed suit in Schuylkill County Court on Feb. 12, 2009.
Schuylkill Judge John Domalakes had scheduled arguments for the suit on Nov. 12, 2009, when the township agreed to hold a police tenure hearing for Romanick instead.
On Jan. 26, the hearing opened with testimony from Rush Supervisors Stephen Simchak and Shawn Gilbert, secretary/treasurer Terri Conville, auditor Carmen Forke and Carol Simchak, the supervisor's wife. Former Supervisor William J. Sanchez, Jr. testified on Romanick's behalf.
The hearing was continued to allow ample time for Romanick to testify.
Romanick requested that his hearing be open to the public. The meeting room was filled Tuesday for Romanick's two and a half-hour testimony and cross examination, but as in the previous session, there was no public comment allowed.
Previously, a list of charges that led to Romanick's removal as chief was read.
Those allegations included neglect of duty, incompetence, failure to complete work assignments, disregard for supervisors' authority, excessive and unauthorized spending, failure to supervise subordinates, behavior unbecoming of an officer, the use of profanity, accepting gifts from organizations without supervisors' approval, disrespect for supervisors and employees, lack of honesty and candor to supervisors, violating confidentiality, reporting to work out of uniform, and failure to respond to emergencies or to delegate subordinates to do so.
It was clear from testimony that the relationship between Romanick and Stephen Simchak, the supervisors' chairman, had deteriorated.
Carol Simchak previously testified that she heard Romanick threaten to punch her husband in the face during a St. Mary's festival in the summer of 2007.
During his testimony, Romanick said Simchak had approached him during that festival and had wanted to shake his hand, which Romanick refused to do
"Don't try to be my friend now," said Romanick, who stated he never said he wanted to punch Simchak. "I told him to get the hell away from me.
"When you are being yelled at and cursed at and then he sticks his hand out a couple of days later, I don't go for that."
Under cross examination, George Hludzik, Drums, the prosecuting attorney, noted, "You seem to have an awful lot of disdain for your employer."
Romanick responded, "You could say that.
"I had quite a few disagreements with the supervisors about how I have to do my job," he said at one point. "I told them I have to do things the right way."
Romanick testified about what happened the evening he was removed as police chief.
During that afternoon, Gilbert asked Romanick to come to the supervisors' meeting that night at 6 p.m. Romanick arrived at 6 p.m. and went into the police station. Sanchez called Romanick at 6:45 and told him the supervisors were ready to see him.
When Romanick went into the supervisors' chambers, he said he was told by either Sanchez or Simchak that they were not going to reappoint him as chief.
Romanick testified that Simchak wanted him to submit a written letter of resignation, which Romanick refused to do. Romanick said he would contact his attorney or the state FOP, and he said Simchak told him he didn't have that right.
It was then that Gilbert offered to put Romanick back into the township's police contract as a patrolman at his same rate of pay if he would resign.
"I was in disbelief," said Romanick. "I told them, you are in violation of my police tenure. I didn't do anything wrong."
Romanick said he got into a heated debate with Simchak and was told if he didn't resign as chief, he wouldn't have a job.
"Go back to your office and clean out your desk," Romanick stated Simchak told him.
Romanick went back into the squad room and was eventually followed by all three supervisors. He said he was told to turn in his gun, his badge and all keys to the station.
When Romanick hesitated, he said Simchak told one of the officers, later identified as current Corporal Duane Frederick, to arrest Romanick. When the officer refused, Simchak said to contact the state police, Romanick said.
One night later, Romanick testified that he called Gilbert and Sanchez, telling the latter he didn't resign and didn't quit.
"I was fired because I didn't give the supervisors a letter of resignation," Romanick said.
Attorney Todd Eagen, Scranton, who is Romanick's defense counsel, entered a copy of the agenda from the Jan. 5, 2009 reorganization meeting into evidence. The agenda listed the hiring of police officers. The board hired Richard Sinton as chief and did not hire Romanick as an officer.
"Just because you were not approved as chief, does it mean you were terminated?" asked Hludzik. "In my eyes, yes," answered Romanick. "I was not given any other job description and opportunity."
Hludzik questioned why Romanick would call Sanchez the following day and tell them he didn't quit if he felt he had been fired.
"They never asked me if I could come back to work," said Romanick. "If they wanted me to come back, they could have called me. The reason they didn't is because I was fired."
Hludzik asked Romanick why he didn't ask the board for a vote at the reorganization meeting.
"I was not on the agenda to be rehired," Romanick said. He felt Gilbert and Sanchez supported his removal because neither showed any disagreement with Simchak over the matter.
Hludzik said it takes more than one supervisor to fire someone.
"There's a different set of rules here," said Romanick.
The rest of Romanick's testimony refuted charges made at the previous session. In some instances, Romanick said he had received permission from supervisors before moving forward or was following proper police protocol.
Among those issues were the purchase of an assault rifle; accepting donations of funds and items such as a camera from Wal-Mart and used computers from Air Products and Silberline Manufacturing Company; injury leave for Patrolman Brian Thompson, who was hurt in an auto accident; allowing an officer to work off duty at Wal-Mart on Black Friday in uniform and using a police cruiser; lawsuits filed by Jennifer Zeigler and Cory Gerhard (Romanick and officers were dismissed from the cases, which were settled); and the completion of a Standard Operating Procedures manual for the township.
After the testimony was completed, Eagen mentioned that case law supported the use of the police tenure hearing for the township, regardless of whether it had three or more officers.
Eagen then moved to recuse Simchak from any involvement regarding decisions with Romanick after a ruling is issued, claiming Simchak is biased. He also wanted a waiver on the argument to Romanick quit, because the township agreed to the tenure hearing.
Hludzik argued against the waiver, stating the prosecution maintains Romanick voluntarily quit when he was demoted.
Scallion did not rule on those motions. Once the transcript of the testimony is completed, the attorneys will submit their findings of fact and conclusions of law before Scallion renders a decision. Hludzik said the process could take two-three months.
"I think I got my points across," said Romanick after the hearing. Romanick said he hoped to be reinstated as chief, or else he would appeal the decision to Schuylkill Court.
When asked why he would consider returning to the position, Romanick said, "I'm here for a job, not the supervisors."