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Police chief's contract causes heated debate

Published April 27. 2012 09:48AM

The subject of Police Chief Sean Smith's contract caused heated debate at last night's meeting of the Nesquehoning Borough Council.

Showing his support for the chief, Councilman Don DeMarco lauded Smith for recently taking down another "druggie" and stated what a "fine job" he is doing.

"I hope this council realizes it, along with the mayor, that wants to see you fail. I hope they realize what you do for this town along with your police force and that you run this police force. When I hired you many years ago, you were a top pick, the top dog. I entrusted you along with the rest of the council here to do your job. And you haven't failed us yet and I want to thank you personally," said DeMarco.

Councilwoman Rose Walck agreed with DeMarco on the fine job of the police force to which Demarco replied, "then you should agree with this contract too."

Last December, council approved the police chief's contract in a 4-3 vote. After the March meeting, council entered into executive session to discuss the contract and have since hired an attorney to dispute it.

When the subject of the contract was broached last night, council President Frank Jacobs said, "We're not going to talk about the contract right now because it's in the hands of the lawyer."

According to DeMarco, the borough is paying the attorney $170 per hour to handle the case.

DeMarco then addressed the mayor stating that he (the mayor) was the one instigating the contract dispute. He accused him of circumventing a non-interference clause and "screwing around" with the chief's hours by scheduling the chief to work by himself.

DeMarco began to question Jacobs regarding the amount of overtime that Smith had been paid in 2011. According to Jacobs, the chief had been paid over $50,000; however, according to DeMarco, the actual amount was $15,000.

Jacobs was asked where he got his information, to which he replied, "That was the information that was given to me."

DeMarco then wanted to know why the chief was not called out to the scene of a recent bomb threat.

Smith said that while he was notified, another officer was called out.

"Every minute of overtime that I work is approved by the mayor," said Smith.

Tempers then began to flare when Jacobs was again questioned as to where he got his information on the amount of overtime that was paid to the chief.

"I won't reveal it at this time," said Jacobs.

Former councilman Richard Zabroski wanted to know why council was trying to change the contract that the previous council had approved.

"I asked what is wrong with this contract and no one is giving me an answer," said Zabroski.

DeMarco answered that according to the Pennsylvania Borough Association, under Act 111, because the chief is in a union, the borough is bound by his contract. He also said that the taxpayers should not be paying $170 for an attorney and that when the borough loses the case, that the council members who are opposing the contract should each be "charged a surcharge" to pay for the legal fees.

Mayor Walck then attempted to clarify the scheduling issue by saying that he does not intentionally schedule the chief by himself. He said that this happens because he is limited by the days the part-time officers inform him that they can work. He added that often, when he does schedule other officers to be on duty along with the chief, they end up calling off.

DeMarco accused Walck of lying and of micromanaging the police department and then walked out of the meeting.

During this exchange, resident Tony DeMarco was repeatedly telling the mayor, "You're going down. Shame on you."

Another area of discord arose when former council member Michael Sniscak addressed council to correct "misstatements" that were previously made by council President Jacobs.

During the March meeting, council was questioned by Louise Mele as to the results of the settlement made with former officer Nick Saullo. Jacobs had stated that Saullo was awarded $47,000 and that as per the court, there was no reason for him to have been dismissed.

"Essentially we fired him for nothing," Mele said, to which Jacobs responded, "Essentially, yes."

Sniscak contended that Saullo was not fired because he was never hired, but was instead on probationary employment. He then questioned Jacobs as to why no response had been given to Mele when she asked why Saullo was never hired. Sniscak stated that the reason was given in court papers.

Jacobs replied by saying that according to the findings given to council by the lawyer, there was "no justification" for Saullo being dismissed.

Sniscak wondered why he and the other individuals involved had not been asked for more details as to why Saullo had been "fired" before accepting the recommendations of the attorney.

"We had no reason to question him (the attorney). The lawyer for the insurance company was handling the case. When I took over in January, we were told to be quiet about it," said Jacobs.

Sniscak later accused Jacobs of making an unethical decision to settle the case because he was a "personal friend" of Saullo.

Council quickly responded that they did not settle the case and that the case was settled between the attorneys and a mediator. Councilman Demarco added that the attorney for the borough's insurance company determined that it was better to settle the case than to drag it out.

Since there were so many unanswered questions regarding the settlement of the case, Councilwoman Rose Walck suggested that further information be obtained from the attorney of the insurance company.

Sniscak also wanted to know if there was a gag order on the individuals involved.

"People ask me about the lawsuit. I don't want people to think I cost them $47,000," said Sniscak.

Borough solicitor Robert Yurchak will contact attorney Chris Gerber to get further details on the final decision of the case.

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