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Dormont hunts for 'working chief'

| Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013, 8:57 p.m.

Dormont council set its expectations for a new police chief, hoping to avoid some of the conflict and confusion that soured the relationship between the outgoing police chief and previous members of council.

The revised job description passed Monday by a unanimous vote reiterates that the borough's top cop is expected to be a “working chief,” performing shift supervisor or patrol duties as required by the mayor. It also loosens the education requirement for the job, stating that a college degree was preferred but not a strict requirement.

The job description also was revised to more clearly state that both the mayor and borough council are the chief's supervisors. It now cites specific sections of the state's borough code to clarify that the mayor is in charge of the police chief and officers, but council has the power to set budgets and control hours that officers work.

“These changes might have improved what had happened before, but they weren't done with that in mind,” said borough manager Jeffrey Naftal.

Police Chief Phil Ross in the summer announced his intent to retire this year, once his replacement is hired and trained.

His decision followed more than a year of bickering among Dormont's administrators and elected officials over police operations.

For much of 2011 and into 2012, Ross and Mayor Tom Lloyd clashed with then-borough Manager Gino Rizza and council members over whether the mayor or council had more authority in directing the department.

The arguing resulted in the borough suspending and demoting Ross and another officer, Sgt. James Burke. Council then hired and lost former Wilkinsburg Chief Richard Dwyer as a short-term replacement for Ross, and blew through Dormont's $30,000 budget for legal fees by defending disciplinary actions.

A council majority that took over last year reinstated Ross and dropped its disciplinary appeals, but this summer Ross announced his retirement plans.

Dormont officials intend to promote their next chief from within the police force. Several officers have taken a test to qualify as sergeants in the event that a sergeant gets bumped up to chief.

Naftal will post the job opening in the borough building this week. Council will interview candidates in executive session Jan. 19.

Council also approved a 3 percent pay raise and a one-time $2,000 bonus for Naftal, citing his smooth takeover of contentious contract negotiations with three of the borough's four employee unions, and the money it saved the borough by no longer requiring a labor attorney.

“He's undoubtedly done a superb job,” said council President Bill McCartney. “We spent zero on labor legal fees.”

Naftal joined the borough in July after working more than 25 years in a number of small southern towns and counties.

Matthew Santoni is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5625 or msantoni@tribweb.com.

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