Councilwoman Beth Bowser dropped a bombshell on her fellow council members last night at the Ford City public meeting.
Council had been quiet on the issue of the hasty resignation of Police Chief Paul Hughes. The Kittanning Paper first reported the rumors of Hughes’ resignation on April 30, 2019.
Last night, Bowser told the story in great detail as the crowd listened intently.
“There were allegations of misconduct made against him by at least three outgoing officers. These officers notified the Mayor of this information at the time they gave their notice of resignation. At that time, the Mayor brought the allegations to Council’s attention. Because the Chief’s position is a public employee, the allegations, if found to be true, would require disciplinary action,” Bowser explained.
According to Bowser, Council brought in a team of lawyers costing several thousand dollars to provide special legal counsel. A special hearing, called a Loudermill Hearing, was convened with Mayor Jeff Cogley, the labor relations legal team, and the attorneys hired by the Borough.
“During the Loudermill Hearing, the Chief submitted his letter of resignation, effective immediately. Council did not know of the outcome of the allegations, if they were true or not, because of his immediate response to resign. Council had to vote and accept the resignation without a formal meeting between the Chief and members of Council – meaning he did not request one with us.”
Mayor Jeff Cogley confirmed following the meeting that there was an exodus of officers, dwindling down the number on the force to just one full time officer and two part-time officers.
“Due to the crisis of the spontaneous depleted department staff, the special counsel has offered to provide Council with a list of retired, seasoned, highly recommended and respected candidates, all passing extensive background checks. These candidates are willing to act as an Interim Chief and work with our current staff and help to plan the forward progression of the department growth with the mayor.”
Bowser thanked the Pennsylvania State Police who responded to the staffing crisis and supplemented police services to Ford City over the past six weeks.
At the last meeting, Councilman Tyson Klukan had publicly discussed looking at a regional approach to police protection rather than having Ford City operate their own department. Bowser balked at the idea of considering the formation of a regionalized police at this time.
“While we can dream of the future, such as regionalization, we still have a police department that needs our attention today,” Bowser said. “We can gather the facts to build a firm foundation from the ground up to our dreams in the sky.”
Although Mayor Cogley had requested an active part-time officer be moved to full-time to help alleviate the workload in the department as the search continues for additional part-time staffing, he said he didn’t realize it was going to come up at last night’s meeting.
Bowser called for an Executive Session to consider Cogley’s request – another move that caught most of Council off-guard. Council President Carol Fenyes permitted the Executive Session, but council members had to search for somewhere within the Latin-American Club to hold it since it wasn’t pre-arranged.
When they re-convened, Council voted to move part-time officer Chris Arthur to a full-time position at $21 per hour plus benefits.
Cogley said that Council had previously filled the first full-time position with Scott Haslett, who also was made the Officer-in-Charge in lieu of no police chief.
“Now with two full time officers, we will put each one on separate shifts. The other part-time officer will work 16-20 hours per week.”
It was obvious the hiring was not on the agenda.
“It was a little abrupt,” Cogley agreed. “It wasn’t planned. When Councilwoman Bowser brought it up, then it pushed us to make a choice.”
Cogley said he agreed with the selection of Arthur, who had served several months with Ford City in the past, then left, and has now served again the last several months.