Ashley police promotion decision is criticized

June 23rd, 2015 4:33 pm

First Posted: 10/8/2013

ASHLEY — A vote to promote a police officer to sergeant on Tuesday was met with complaints from the public.

The controversial measure started out as a motion from Councilman Jim Mullin that would have authorized Police Chief John Bell “to promote from within” the department.

Meanwhile, council took no action on filling the borough manager position created at the September meeting to replace the secretary and treasurer positions. Borough Secretary Christine Casey said council received some applications and, contrary to rumor, she has not applied.

Casey resigned her full-time position as borough secretary and has been working part-time in the position until someone can take over for her. She said she is now “very happy” working in the health care field.

Solicitor Bill Vinsko said the move to promote the officer to sergeant would not automatically increase pay or benefits of any officer without council approval.

But several residents said the action would allow the chief to appoint whomever he wanted to be in charge of the department if he ever went away for an extended period of time, and the residents contended that was council’s job.

“It’s against the borough code, and you know it,” said Fire Chief Joe McGlynn, who is running for council.

Vinsko said the point made was “100 percent correct,” and council rescinded the motion.

Mullin then made a motion, with a second from Councilwoman Sharon Keefe, to promote officer Tom Nalbone to sergeant. Nalbone has been working part-time for the borough since 2011, according to Borough Secretary Christine Casey.

Vinsko said the position would remain part-time, and Nalbone would receive a $200 stipend, which was built into this year’s budget.

Councilman Don Sipple said a consultant report predicted that taxes would go up by 2015 if such promotions were made.

Council President Joe Gorham said that was inaccurate because council already raised taxes three years ago to accommodate future growth initiatives such as building up the police department.

Gorham, Mullin, Keefe and Stacy McGovern voted for the promotion; Sipple and Marty McDonald voted against it.

Complaints about police

During public comment, several people spoke out against the promotion as well as some alleged practices of the police department.

Ron Wickizer said officers spend a vast majority of their shifts in the station instead of patrolling and they also spend time “behind the Preston Fire Department” in Hanover Township.

“How can you promote somebody that doesn’t leave the building?” Wickizer said.

Dolores Kaufer said she’s afraid to call the police because she doesn’t trust the chief to respond. “Your cops are never down here in this patch.”

Patricia Kastreva said Nalbone didn’t keep her informed of court action involving people allegedly involved in an attack on her son with a baseball bat. She said she learned a hearing had been postponed through a newspaper article and, when she questioned Nalbone, was told he sent her a text message.

Kastreva said she had her phone turned off the night before and that a text message was not a proper way to inform crime victims of court action. She also said she did not get return calls from the police until she called the Luzerne County District Attorney’s Office for information.

Kaufer said she won’t call Bell because he “cursed me out when I spoke to him” and wanted to know why the chief wasn’t at the meeting, adding that former Chief David Cerski, who was fired in 2011 after his girlfriend filed a protection order application against him, always attended council meetings.

McGlynn said new officers are sent out on Ashley streets by themselves after only a few days training, which isn’t fair to them or the public. He said that’s not enough time to learn the layout of the town, and noted that it recently took police 20 minutes to respond to a call for assistance from the fire department.

Gorham said council would go into executive session after the meeting to discuss the police issues raised by the public.