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Mahoning police chief plans to sue 3 supervisors

Published December 14. 2011 05:01PM

Mahoning Township supervisors are facing a double-edged sword as Police Chief Kenneth Barnes filed another complaint with the Department of Labor and Industry, alleging the fuel tanks at the rear of the municipal building are unsafe.

Barnes' attorney has also notified three supervisors of his intent to sue them for interfering with his ability to do his job.

"It was stated at a public meeting last night, so I will confirm it," said township Chairperson John Wieczorek Tuesday morning in a phone interview.

"I received notice that myself, Supervisors Franklin Ruch and Linda Benner are being sued by Chief Barnes, alleging we are creating a hostile work environment."

The suit was mentioned by Ruch during the township's regular meeting Monday night after Wieczorek called for an executive session to discuss personnel matters that he (Ruch) would not be a party to, nor sit in an executive session in which the subject would be "the lawsuit against me by Chief Barnes or any police matters."

While the township has not confirmed the nature of the personnel matters discussed during the myriad of executive sessions held throughout the year, it is a matter of public record that several part-time and one full-time officer were hired and let go through the year.

Earlier this year full-time officer Amie Barclay was dismissed from the township only to be reinstated recently.

About two months ago, Supervisor Travis Steigerwalt accused Wieczorek and Benner of illegally meeting with the police without properly notifying board members in violation of the Sunshine Law.

In addition to these matters, Benner at one point mentioned that Officer Audie Mertz volunteered to help alleviate apparent problems scheduling police for shift work. He supplied several options for scheduling, one of which was adopted by the chief briefly, although Monday night Benner said the chief has since discarded the schedule suggestions and the department is having problems scheduling once again.

In recent months, Barnes filed a complaint citing several alleged safety and health issues with the building, which the supervisors and engineer are addressing; followed by a second complaint just recently, in which he is alleging the fuel tanks are hazardous.

Wieczorek would not make any specific comments on any of these issues other than to confirm he, Benner and Ruch were issued a notice that the chief is filing possible state and federal suits against them for creating a hostile environment.

The TIMES NEWS attempted on Tuesday to reach Chief Barnes for comment about the notice of suit, but was told by the officer on duty that he was not working that day and the officer was not sure when he would be back in the office.

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