by Jonathan Weaver
It’s been almost eight years since Ford City Borough has had a police chief.
Since Jan Lysakowski resigned in April 2006, the full-time police department has operated under the leadership of three full-time sergeants and more than a dozen part-time officers – under the eye of Mayor Marc Mantini.
But, after long-time Police Sergeant Ron Klingensmith resigned in November, Mayor Mantini has desired for more officers on the force.
Last night, a majority of council members not only advertised for another officer, but for a chief.
The item came under new business on the regular council agenda and was motioned by Councilman Josh Abernathy and seconded by Council Vice-President Jerry Miklos – who both sit on the council Police Committee.
Mayor Mantini was caught by surprise.
“I should have been notified about this,” Mayor Mantini said. “So many times we needed a police chief – however, for eight years, the officers have done an excellent job. If Borough finances are this tight that we can’t get doors fixed, that we have to drive in unsafe, junk cars, why are we making a motion to hire a police chief?”
Abernathy told Mayor Mantini that a grievance was filed to hire another full-time officer.
Miklos later said that the grievance was filed by full-time police sergeants John Atherton and Mark Brice.
“That’s going to be a costly proposition for the Borough,” Miklos said. “If they’re going to force us to hire another full-time officer, the thought process was ‘Well, we might as well give the Mayor what he wants and see if he can do better with a police chief.’”
However, one of the sergeants said last night the letter was not in a form of a grievance, but rather as a request to find out when another full-time officer would be hired.
“There’s always been talk about hiring a police chief because the Mayor has always been screaming for one,” Miklos said.
Miklos – who said Sgts. Atherton and Brice are eligible to apply for the police chief position – was neighbors with the former chief.
Councilman Gene Banks said the Police Committee met before last night’s council meeting to discuss the issue – and put the motion on the evening agenda without discussing the issue with the rest of council first – but was in-favor of the advertisement.
“That police department does need some leadership,” Banks said. “If we can afford it, a chief would bring that department back up to snuff.”
Lysakowski was police chief when Banks moved to Ford City in 1992 and Banks recognized the chief for his organization and cooperation with the former crime watch.
The motion passed 5-1, with Councilwoman Vicki Schaub – who was at her first meeting since being appointed by council upon the resignation of Kim Bish in February – abstaining.
The full-time police force is currently made up of the two sergeants and 14 part-time officers.
In the Borough’s $2.5 million budget, Mayor Mantini said about $500,000 – or 20 percent –is designated for police protection.
In two weeks, Borough residents will get to voice their opinions on the future of the water plant during a town hall meeting.
At 6PM March 24, council members will hear comments at the Slovak Club along 6th Avenue for an hour before a special meeting to discuss finances and any other business.
Abernathy said the three options will be described in detail.
“We’re going to lay out the three options we have and go over all the numbers we have, everything we’ve worked hard to get,” Abernathy said. “Right now, there is no set direction.”
Miklos said rehabilitating the current plant – which the Department of Environmental Protection reminds council – is also an option.
“We haven’t really received much – if any- input from the public to this point. People haven’t been screaming one-way or the other about the water plant, so hopefully they’ll turn out in mass here and we’ll get a lot of input,” Miklos said.
Miklos recommended the town hall meeting be rescheduled due to a zoning hearing meeting scheduled at 7PM that evening at the Borough building, but it will be advertised as motioned.
“I understand there may be a conflict with some citizens, but we need to move forward with these issues. We don’t have time to go back. We’ve got to keep moving forward,” Abernathy said. “If there’s a chance they didn’t stop fines, we’re still getting fined.”
A majority of council members also met with the Manor Township Joint Municipal Authority regarding an agreement last week.
Ford City Borough could be incurring fines of up to $250 per day due to not telling DEP its decision. Borough Engineer James Garvin verified that he paid a $4,000 fine at the end of February.
Speaking as a local resident at the beginning of the meeting, Banks challenged Council President Kathy Bartuccio to be more vocal during.
“I’ve heard a lot from our vice president (Miklos), a lot from our council members, but very seldom do I hear you speak,” Banks said. “You need to be recognized. You need to be the focal point of this meeting. There have been bickering and throwing quick jabs at our employees – you have the power of that gavel and you can use it to stop some of this stuff that’s going on the two months you’ve been here.”
Bartuccio did use the gavel multiple times to break up arguments amongst council members and local residents during the meeting.