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Heated exchanges

  • CHRIS PARKER/TIMES NEWS Coaldale resident Francis Hutta distributes documents as part of his contention of wrongdoing by some residents and a borough police officer.
    CHRIS PARKER/TIMES NEWS Coaldale resident Francis Hutta distributes documents as part of his contention of wrongdoing by some residents and a borough police officer.
Published March 13. 2013 05:02PM

A Coaldale resident accused several others of wrongdoing at a public council meeting Tuesday. The people named then rebutted his statements in what was once again a series of heated exchanges.

The rowdy public comment portion of the meeting consumed an hour and a half, after which council went through a few committee items before going into executive session.

Francis Hutta, of 120 W. Lehigh St., handed out pages of photocopies of documents to council members as he addressed three issues: A contract he was awarded for repairing the borough hall; the police department; and his charge that some people who volunteered for the borough committed fraud when they were permitted to buy into the borough's health benefits.

The accusations were leveled against those who publicly oppose the February 2012 council decision to furlough the town's three full-time police officers (Charles Blesse, Sgt. Keith Krapf and Criminal Investigator Todd Weiss, who now work part time), and who at last month's public meeting revealed the 1983 arrest of councilman David Yelito for selling methamphetamine, and called for Yelito to resign.

Yelito, who said there is a "vendetta" against him, has since been removed as head of the borough's Police Committee. He said Tuesday he will not step down.

Hutta called the health benefits matter a "favors for friends agenda." He specifically named Linda Miller, who was a civil service commission secretary, and Ruth and Tom Weiss. Tom Weiss served on the borough planning commission. The benefits were in place between 2004-2008.

"Last couple meetings, Mrs. Linda Miller, Mrs. Ruth Weiss, they threatened the borough by ... there was some past ... with Mr. Yelito, with his past. There was also some vendetta against the police department, and there was more lawsuits coming," Hutta said.

He gave council copies of documents, including ones that listed the Weiss's as being covered under the borough's plan from Sept. 1, 2004 through Sept. 1, 2005 at a cost of $983.43, while Ruth Weiss was volunteering as Civil Service Commission secretary. The document did not list Miller.

Hutta said the benefits were withdrawn on Aug. 18, 2008 after an auditor pointed out that insurance coverage was limited to employees. Miller resigned that day.

"They were collecting a benefit they didn't work for," Hutta said. He said his attorney told him it was fraud.

Borough Fire Chief Richard Marek, who was on council at the time, said that Miller and the Weiss' paid for their coverage.

"We didn't pay for that. They paid for it. The borough did not pay one dime," he said.

Further, "if the auditors picked up on it and thought it was fraud ... why didn't they pursue it? Because it wasn't fraud," Marek said. "What it was, was an honest mistake, and an honest misinterpretation, again on some council members," including himself, the late Jake Maroushak, current Councilman Joe Hnat, former Councilwoman Nancy Lorchak and others.

Ruth Weiss said they had been offered the buy-in, and did not know it wasn't proper. She also disputed Hutta's statement that she had threatened the borough.

"Did I threaten the borough? Never," she said. "All I did was speak my opinion."

Hutta spoke about the roofing contract, which has been questioned by resident Angela Krapf, who is Keith Krapf's wife. He said that in July 2012, he was asked to give a price for the repairs. In September, he said, he gave a more detailed estimate that included roofs and windows.

"I was notified three weeks later I received the bid, which I thought was all legal. I didn't know how it was done," he said.

Hutta said he did extra work for which he did not charge, and even knocked $455 off the original estimate.

Angela Krapf asked council to further explain the bidding process for the work. Specifically, why Hutta's bid was the only one of three listed to include dollar amounts.

Councilman Tom Keerans said the borough didn't need to get bids because the project was under $18,000.

Hutta also said Keith Krapf was promoted to sergeant in July 2007 after having failed the sergeant exam, and without following proper protocol of borough code and the Civil Service Commission, which he read aloud.

"I want to know why he was put on a fast track for promotion," he said.

Marek said the borough was not under Civil Service Commission rule at the time, because it had fewer than three full-time officers, not counting the police chief.

"We did go on the advice of our attorney at that time," he said.

Marek acknowledged that Krapf had failed the test, but said that "Chief Delaney did see merit in Keith. He talked to myself, as chairman, the police committee, and at that point in time, he was appointed to the position of sergeant.

"There was nothing illegal done, because we weren't governed by Civil Service at that time," Marek said.

Reached for comment after the meeting, Krapf would say only that "The civil service guidelines were not in effect at the time of my promotion, and I am honored to serve in such capacity with great support from the chief, officers and the residents of Coaldale Borough."

He declined further comment.

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