LEECHBURG – Last night was the December monthly meeting of Leechburg Borough Council. However, few in attendance were interested in various items on the agenda except one: the status of Chief of Police Michael Diebold.
The Chief was involved in a fireworks accident six months ago that severed his arm. Now equipped with an artificial limb, doctors cleared Diebold to return to work on December 11. However, the Mayor refused to allow the Chief to assume his duties and a standoff began.
While Council did not permit questions citing personnel reasons, a public statement by Council was read concerning the matter. It read as follows:
“The Borough is pleased to announce a mutual agreement between the Borough Council and its Police Chief Mike Diebold regarding the Chief’s status. The parties have agreed that Chief Diebold will be placed on paid leave retroactive to December 11, 2017, pending the completion of a fitness for duty medical exam assessing the Chief’s capacity to perform the essential functions of his job. The parties have agreed upon the process that will be used to complete the exam and both sides plan to work diligently to ensure it happens as quickly as possible.
“If the results of the exam show that Chief Diebold can perform the essential duties of his job, he will return to full active duty as our Chief. The results of the exam will be shared with Pennsylvania’s Municipal Police Officers’ Education & Training Commission.
“The Borough Council expresses its gratitude to Chief Diebold for his cooperation in reaching agreement on a process that is fair to him and the Leechburg community. At no time prior to reaching this agreement with Chief Diebold did the Borough Council ever intend to be unfair to Chief Diebold in handling his desire to return to work. While the Borough would have preferred to be in a position to reach and announce this Agreement sooner, the Agreement is entirely consistent with how the Borough initially planned to handle this challenging matter.
“Finally, Borough Council thanks the Leechburg community for its interest in this matter and requests the community to fully support the agreement reached between Chief Diebold and Borough Council.”
Council did not release details of exactly how or who would administer the exam of competency, except to say it was agreed upon by both Council and Diebold.
Approximately 25 members of the Pennsylvania Fraternal Order of Police were in attendance. The crowd overflowed the small council chambers into the hallway.
Kittanning Police Officer Donald A. Blose said in a prepared statement that he is confident is Diebold’s ability to return to work.
“I have worked with Mike for over 20 years, and I would have as much confidence working with him today as I did 20 years ago. I would have no hesitation calling him as backup nor would I have hesitation following him into an incident,” Blose wrote.
Leechburg Councilman-Elect Chuck Pascal, who is a practicing attorney, took to FaceBook last week to condemn the procedure used by Council in not providing written notification to Diebold regarding his status.
A person who refused to be identified stated her support of Council’s position.
“Council is just trying to safeguard the interests of Leechburg citizens. They want to be sure Mike can perform all his duties so we don’t get sued in the future if something goes wrong (when he is out on a call).”
There was no timeframe for when the competency exam would be completed and Council would act on its findings.