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Mahoning meetings may have been in violation

Published October 11. 2011 05:01PM

One supervisor's allegations of some improper meetings that may have violated the township's Sunshine Law during the officials portion of the last Mahoning Township supervisors' meeting was met with a statement at last night's supervisor's meeting that supervisors may not have properly identified some executive sessions that took place to deal with personnel issues involving the police department earlier this year and more than two supervisors may have attended the meetings.

"I want to make an attempt to correctly identify some executive sessions that took place earlier this year to meet the spirit of the Sunshine Law which we may not have properly identified at the time," said Township Chairman John Wieczorek in response to last month's allegation by Supervisor Travis Steigerwalt that improper meetings took place.

At the time the allegation was not directly answered, but Wieczorek requested reviewing the matter with Solicitor Tom Nanovic and upon receiving clarification he made the statement and identified five meetings that may not have been properly stated in advance although one meeting he stated was only attended by two supervisors and did not meet the definition of a quorum and may not have been an improper meeting.

The meetings Wieczorek outlined all dealt with meeting with police officers and the chief and included meetings on March 9th, April 6th with fulltime officers, April 27th and June 15th with Police Chief Ken Barnes and August 24th with the entire department. The reason the meetings may have been in violation is due to a quorum of supervisors attending all but the April 6th meeting and a failure to announce the meetings took place.

Wieczorek said the failure to meet the Sunshine Law requirements was not intentional and that he hoped the announcement would help to rectify the matter and any misunderstanding that may have resulted.

In other police matters, Supervisor Linda Benner said that with the help of Officer Audie Mertz, the Police Committee which is composed of she and Steigerwalt was able to find a schedule to furnish to Chief Barnes to try to rectify some of the issues that occurred with scheduling officers in the past. The decision was made at a police committee meeting held before the supervisor's meeting with the Chief, Benner and Steigerwalt.

Issues included scheduling part time officers who worked in other municipalities as well to back to back 16 hour shifts, four to eight in their other position followed immediately by scheduled eight hour shifts in the township. Mertz volunteered on his own time to work on the schedule.

Benner said that Barnes would implement the option and see if it solved some of the issues the department was having with its schedule. In addition, she pointed out that Secretary-Treasurer Natalie Haggerty would also have a figure for the budget to determine the real cost for the part time officer shifts in the schedule for planning purposes.

At September's meeting, Steigerwalt disputed whether Mertz was directed to do the scheduling on his own time. He felt that Mertz should have been doing the scheduling assignment in the office. Benner said he volunteered to do the schedule on his own time when he was asked to make an attempt at improving it.

Benner apologized at last evening's meeting about the unfounded allegation made by a supervisor previously that Mertz was not truthful about what he said regarding his assignments. She said, "He brought in written proof that what he said about his assignments was absolutely true and while I was not the one who accused him of not telling the truth, I want to apologize for certain people not believing what he said."

Finally supervisors approved two police officers to work an eight hour shift from midnight to 8 a.m. on November 25th which is Black Friday to help Wal-Mart with crowd control. The store will be billed a rate of $50 an hour per officer to cover overhead and wages for each officer. Chief Barnes will decide which officers receive the detail with the direction from the board that straight time is the first option with overtime only occurring if there are no officers able to work the detail in their normal scheduling. The vote passed unanimously.

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