WILKES-BARRE — The city’s police force might function without a chief and be overseen by a civilian public safety director as part of the restructuring Mayor Tony George is considering in light of a report critical of the lack of professional training at the highest levels of the department.
George on Friday said he’s had discussions with candidates for the administrative post. He declined to identify them.
“Actually, I talked to several people,” he said.
One of them is councilman Bill Barrett, a former city police chief who is in charge of security at Luzerne County Community College.
“It’s been discussed,” Barrett confirmed.
Barrett said the civilian director would oversee the operation of the police department and be responsible for strategic planning, among other things.
The city has had a public safety director before, most recently under the administration of Mayor Tom McGroarty in the late 1990s. He named former state police commander William McGlynn to the post in January 1996. McGroarty eliminated the director’s job in 2000.
“I’m not reinventing the wheel,” George said Friday.
The chief’s position might not be filled and the department would function with commanders in the leadership roles, the mayor said.
“I’m thinking about what’s best for the city cost-wise and public safety-wise,” George explained.
He has six weeks to put his plan into practice, as the June 3 retirement of Chief Marcella Lendacky approaches. She could remain at the $95,481-a-year job if the process drags on, George said.
“If I needed longer, I’d ask her to stay longer,” said the mayor. “You need leadership.”
He continued to provide unwavering support for Lendacky, whom he appointed chief in early 2016 after he took office. He also said the department deserves credit for the job it’s doing.
“I don’t see a problem with the department as a whole,” George said.
He took issue with some of the report by the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association completed at the end of March and provided to city officials earlier this month. George was referring to the parts that said Lendacky and Commander Ron Foy were unqualified for their senior level management posts and responsible for the discord with the rank-and-file officers represented by the Wilkes-Barre Police Benevolent Association.
“It seems like it was written by the PBA,” George said previously of the report.
But the mayor said he would keep his promise and follow its recommendations so the department can move forward.
George’s consideration of a safety director’s position was in line with one of the recommendations. It stated: “Consideration should be given to outsourcing selected management functions to established experts for short-term or long-term solution to issues facing the organization. Suggested services include, but are not limited to, needs assessments, strategic planning, policy development, implementation plans, resource allocation, development of management and supervisory skills/mentoring, performance measures, accountability, and media relations.”
The report did not recommend Lendacky or Foy be removed from their positions, however.
Foy, a detective appointed to the $82,514-a-year commander’s post by the mayor in July 2016, remains on the job.
Councilwoman Beth Gilbert has called for Lendacky and Foy to resign. Her resolution on their resignations is on the agenda for discussion at Tuesday night’s work session.
The report is being reviewed by city Attorney Tim Henry to ensure it complies with the state Right-to-Know law and has yet to be released to the public. The Times Leader obtained an unedited copy from a source.
Reach Jerry Lynott at 570-991-6120 or on Twitter @TLJerryLynott.