Gilbert, George at odds on W-B police leadership

By Jerry Lynott - [email protected]
Wilkes-Barre councilwoman Beth Gilbert, holding a copy of the report that said two top police officials were not qualified for their jobs, has renewed her call for their resignations. - Sean McKeag | Times Leader file
George - Sean McKeag | Times Leader file

WILKES-BARRE — A resolution under consideration that calls for the resignations of the embattled police chief and a commander won’t resolve the leadership issues identified in an independent review of the department, Mayor Tony George said Friday.

Chief Marcella Lendacky and Commander of Patrol Ron Foy remain in uniform, despite what Councilwoman Beth Gilbert plans to introduce.

“It doesn’t carry any weight and it’s almost impossible to do,” said George, a former police chief himself, of the resolution and what it wants. “You just can’t leave the next day and expect the department to run by itself.”

Besides, George said, “There’s no immediate threat to the department if she stays there.”

The mayor said he’s considering the next steps in reaction to the review and accompanying report by the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association that could include restructuring the department by the time Lendacky retires in June.

Gilbert said she worried that Lendacky could cause further harm.

“The report shows her proven track record of excessive discipline and suspensions, and nothing is stopping her from continuing to act this way until her date of retirement. What happens when even more allegations of wrongdoing are made and someone sues? How can the administration defend themselves then knowing that they have unqualified leaders within the department?” Gilbert said in an email Friday.

The PCPA’s report, commissioned by the city at a cost of $26,212 in response to the discord between the police administration and the union representing rank-and-file officers, did not recommend Lendacky’s removal. But it criticized her and Foy’s lack of professional training and said they were unqualified for their leadership posts. The report also blamed them for the rift between them and the Wilkes-Barre Police Benevolent Association.

On April 4, the same day the report was provided to city council, Lendacky gave notice that she would retire from her $95,481-a-year job June 3. Foy is still working and drawing his $82,514 annual salary.

‘Huge threat’

Gilbert, who early on supported the union’s request for an investigation of the department, called for Lendacky and Foy to step down last week and hasn’t changed her mind. She said at Thursday night’s council meeting that neither Lendacky nor Foy should be on the job and would introduce a resolution calling for their resignations at the April 26 meeting.

“I do not think the people responsible for this should be allowed to go back to an old position or leave at their own convenience. In my opinion, there is a huge threat to the department with Lendacky still in charge, even if it is just for a little less than two months,” Gilbert said.

While acknowledging council’s limited power pertaining to the removal of city employees, Gilbert said the resolution is council’s way to voice its opinion.

“Council voted unanimously to have this study conducted, so it would only make sense for council to vote unanimously in support of the study’s findings as well,” Gilbert said.

However, she was unsure of the support, especially after speaking with an unnamed council member who attended Thursday’s meeting.

”One council member told me he does not want to ‘kick anyone while they are down.’ I think he should remember that the leadership in charge has effectively tortured the department for the past two years,” Gilbert said.

She added the report essentially validated the union’s complaints about the management of the department, a point the mayor took issue with.

In an interview earlier this week, the mayor defended Lendacky’s qualifications and said the police union shared the blame for the department’s problems.

“They have a right to protest some of the things, but not when it starts damaging the morale or even the public perception of the police department and that’s what it was doing,” George said. “That’s what I want to stop. So I said, ‘I’ll do whatever it takes to stop that.’ Because it’s all perception. What people see is what they believe.”

To the contrary, Gilbert said, the mayor has been reluctant to remove Lendacky and Foy, whom he appointed to the posts, and that shows he’s not keeping his word.

“The mayor promised he would follow the recommendations of the report, and so far he has not followed through on his promises,” Gilbert said.

Wilkes-Barre councilwoman Beth Gilbert, holding a copy of the report that said two top police officials were not qualified for their jobs, has renewed her call for their resignations.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/web1_TTL040518BethGilbert-12.jpgWilkes-Barre councilwoman Beth Gilbert, holding a copy of the report that said two top police officials were not qualified for their jobs, has renewed her call for their resignations. Sean McKeag | Times Leader file

George
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/web1_TTL011517George2-cmyk-4.jpgGeorge Sean McKeag | Times Leader file

By Jerry Lynott

[email protected]

Reach Jerry Lynott at 570-991-6120 or on Twitter @TLJerryLynott.

Reach Jerry Lynott at 570-991-6120 or on Twitter @TLJerryLynott.