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Rescinding of police policies causes rift

Published March 09. 2012 05:01PM

Controversy continues to plague the Mahoning Township police department. Action by the officer in charge lead to the rescinding of police policies in the township over the objections of two supervisors. The board continued to retain Officer Audie Mertz as the temporary top officer in charge in the township while Police Chief Kenneth Barnes is out for health reasons.

"Last meeting we appointed Audie Mertz on a 4 to 1 vote with me opposed to put him in charge and he began to rescind policies and it [those decisions] should come to us," said Supervisor Travis Steigerwalt during the Police Committee's report. As an example of one such policy that Mertz rescinded, Steigerwalt cited an edict that divides the township into patrol sectors when multiple officers are on duty. Another policy that Mertz rescinded was one that prevented two officers from having lunch together while on duty.

Steigerwalt said he approached Mertz and told him he did not have the authority to be rescinding policies but Mertz told him he did. "Then I went to John [Wieczorek who is the Chairman of the supervisors] and he did nothing", he continued.

Wieczorek did not directly respond to Steigerwalt's comment but did state when Barnes originally implemented the policies he never had the board approve the policies either and he believed the board should have approved them. He went to the office and returned with the police manual, opened it and showed the contents to the other supervisors while commenting, "We don't know or haven't seen many of these policies. For example, this first policy that he has listed here isn't even in the manual and I haven't even seen some of these others."

He told the board he felt the policies should all be rescinded and then approved by the board after they have reviewed them.

Steigerwalt voiced his objection to the idea. "No one is getting along up there right now and I think that is the wrong idea." Supervisor Linda Benner commented, "I don't know why you think no one is getting along up there."

Solicitor Tom Nanovic said he believed that when the board appointed Mertz he believed the idea was for him to manage the ship and not necessarily rearrange it, but he also pointed out the problem the board is facing is the police department's rules were not approved by the board before they were enacted.

Nanovic said, "I don't think Officer In Charge Mertz was put in place to undo the policies."

Wieczorek said he just wanted them pulled and resubmitted to the board so they could be approved officially. Nanovic questioned whether it was a good idea to just rescind them without having any idea what the policies were.

Wieczorek moved to rescind them, have them resubmitted and approved officially by the board and Benner seconded the motion. Steigerwalt questioned why they just couldn't stay in place until they were officially approved or rejected.

Wieczorek commented that policies should not be necessary for professional people unless someone is caught abusing a rule so he didn't see why temporarily rescinding them would be an issue. The vote carried on a 3-2 vote with Benner and Supervisor Frank Ruch supporting Wieczorek's motion while Supervisors Travis Steigerwalt and Bruce Steigerwalt opposed the action.

Next Wieczorek pointed out that Barnes still was not returning from his medical leave and Mertz was originally only appointed until February 28th. In light of that, the Officer in Charge appointment needed to be extended indefinitely. Steigerwalt objected citing two officers in the department have more seniority than Mertz, but the vote carried 4-1 with only Travis voting against the motion.

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