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Rush Township actions spark heated debate

Published January 05. 2010 05:00PM

In a lengthy meeting following its reorganization Monday, Rush Township supervisors - mostly by split votes - approved a number of actions that included selling the police department's two assault rifles, adopting policies and job descriptions for all employees and hiring an engineering firm to start work on deteriorating streets.

The actions also included asking the state Department of Community and Economic Development to begin exploring forming a regional police department, adopting a policy that would oust appointed, not elected, officials from seats if they are delinquent on township bills, such as trash collection, fines, property tax or utility bills, and limiting public comment to two minutes per speaker.

The assault rifles would be sold only to a licensed dealer. Corporal Duane Frederick asked if he could bring his own assault rifle, for which he is certified, if needed.

Supervisors said the assault rifles aren't necessary and that the township could call in a state police SWAT team if needed.

Supervisors Chairman Steve Simchak and newly-seated Supervisor Robert Leibensperger Jr. proposed and voted for the actions, with Supervisor Shawn Gilbert, who said he has been frozen out of interviews and policy development meetings, dissenting on almost all of the moves. Gilbert was vocal in his dissent, and described Simchak and Leibensperger as "dictators."

The job descriptions and policies were met with dismay by police and fire officials, who said they were seeing the changes for the first time. Leibensperger said he had researched and drafted the policies along with Simchak, and said they had passed muster by the state and by the township's insurance carriers.

Among the actions were to hire Precision Design to create a township Web site to give citizens easier access to documents and information; hiring Marie Skripnek of West Penn Township as a part-time clerk at $10.50 an hour; hiring Anne Lutz and Brian Zulic as part-time police officers at $12 an hour, pending background checks; hiring the engineering firm of Alfred Benesch and Company to do preliminary design work on Meadow Avenue, Heckman/Isganis streets, Kahler Hill, Ye Old Hauto Road and the Ryan Memorial Park playground; upgrading the computer systems; applying for a grant to help pay for the new LED traffic lights at the Route 309/Route 54 intersection; adopting a Standard Operations police manual; applying for a Dunn's number (needed for federal funding); adopting a fire police policy; adopting a flow-chart for personnel and adopting a police code of conduct policy.

The police policy requires officers to be courteous; not solicit gifts or gratuity without approval from supervisors; maintain their equipment; not spread rumors; follow standard operating procedure; all officers must patrol; restricts visitors to the police station to those who have verifiable business or are officers; check cruisers before duty and stay within township boundaries except if they are called by a neighboring community for assistance.

The policy must be approved for the Fraternal Order of Police.

Many in the audience, which included former Supervisor William Sanchez Jr., enthusiastically challenged and questioned many of the actions.

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