Monroeville residents expected to rally for former police chief
Monroeville Council chambers is expected to fill up Thursday with supporters of former police Chief Doug Cole, who was removed “without cause” from his position last Friday, two days after Jeff Silka resigned as municipal manager.
It is the second time in 12 months that a manager has resigned amid pressure from the same four members of council — Diane Allison, Lois Drumheller, Clarence Ramsey and Bernhard Erb. Cole was demoted to sergeant Friday. The 7 p.m. meeting is scheduled as a citizen's night and council workshop.
Drumheller said council should be focused on business issues, not political issues.
“I hope that Thursday is not taken up with a bunch of animosity and acrimony,” she said. “We have to concentrate on cutting costs. We, as a council, have to work fervently in following through with looking at contracted services and bidding things out.”
But it could take a while to hire a long-term manager after four of seven council members approved Silka's resignation and appointed Lynette McKinney as the interim manager, Mayor Greg Erosenko said. McKinney was an administrative assistant prior to her current role.
“Mrs. McKinney is the majority's puppet,” Erosenko said.
McKinney responded Tuesday by saying, “I find it a bit hypocritical that the last two male managers were not questioned as being puppets to the majority even though any manager can be replaced at any time by a majority of council.”
Silka resigned Jan. 30 after saying that council members, led by Allison, ordered him to remove Cole or be fired himself. Allison said she and three other council members pressed Silka to investigate why Cole did not look into a complaint that former police chief George Polnar violated the federal privacy law by sharing information about a medical emergency.
“(Silka) needed to do something. Doing nothing is not acceptable,” Allison said.
Cole declined to comment; earlier, he said that he acted properly in his role as chief.
McKinney was appointed as interim manager last January when former manager Tim Little resigned. Erosenko said McKinney has only an associate's degree and limited experience in managing a municipality. He said she is not qualified for the position and that as a result, progress in Monroeville — such as economic development — could stall for the second time in 12 months.
McKinney said she has worked for 20 years in the administration office of Monroeville and that according to Section 701 of the Home Rule Charter, the manager only is required to have three years experience in government administration.
As for hiring a long-term manager, Drumheller said, “I see the priority as getting our house in order, and letting the (hiring process) go through its proper course.”
Councilman Nick Gresock — one of three council members who did not attend the meeting Jan. 30 when council approved Silka's resignation — said the process for hiring both a long-term police chief and manager should begin immediately.
“The municipality needs stability,” Gresock said.
“Stability comes with having a long-term manager and long-term chief of police.”
The hiring process last year, after former manager Tim Little resigned, took about six months. However, given the current political conditions, “I think Monroeville is going to have a tough time finding a competent manager,” Erosenko said.
Silka was given a seven-month severance package of $67,600. Little also was given a seven-month severance package, but officials did not release the details of the agreement.
Allegheny County Councilman Chuck Martoni said a mediator should sit both sides down to find a compromise. Martoni is president of the Boyce Campus of Allegheny County Community College in Monroeville. When he was the mayor of Swissvale, Martoni said, he often acted as a negotiator on a split council.
“Most of the time, both sides were so irrational not much could be done,” he said. “That's the worst thing a (council) can do,” Martoni said.
Erosenko said Monday that if a majority of council does not return Cole to his former position, he will pursue legal action.
Drumheller supports the decision to remove Cole, saying that a potential violation of Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, “is nothing to be taken lightly.”
Allison said Silka told council in October that he took the allegations of a HIPAA violation seriously and would look into who was responsible for allowing unauthorized people to remain on a list of those who receive information about emergency calls from the Monroeville dispatch center. Since then, Allison said, she has not received an update from the manager.
Cole said in October that when officials realized the first-responders list was outdated, Polnar and at least 10 other names were purged from the list, and fire departments submitted new contact lists.
Current first responders were added to an updated communications process that eliminates the municipality as a go-between in alerting individual responders, Cole said.
An official with the Department of Health and Human Services said the case remains open. Monroeville Solicitor Bruce Dice conducted a review last year and said no law was broken.
Allison said her main concern is that the list still contains names that should not be on it.
Meanwhile, Gresock said, he never was approached by a member of the majority about any problems they had with Cole.
“I understand four votes is what it takes to approve things, but all seven should be working together to get to these answers,” Gresock said. “And if that's the sole incident, they should at least make sure it is an actual violation. It's crazy.”
Steve Pascarella was promoted from assistant chief to acting chief after Cole's demotion.
Erosenko said Allison and her husband, who is a Monroeville police officer, are friends with Pascarella. The mayor asserts that Allison pushed for Cole's demotion so Pascarella would be appointed chief, which potentially could help her husband move up to detective.
Allison said she knows people have speculated that her actions are an effort to get her husband promoted, but she said that isn't the case.
“That makes for a good story,” said Allison, adding he has not sought such a promotion. “This is more harmful than helpful to him.”
Pascarella last week said he was not involved in any effort to oust the police chief.
“I haven't been approached (nor have I) spoken to any elected officials about being promoted to police chief,” he said. “I resent that speculation.”
Citing the fact that two municipal managers have resigned under pressure from the same four officials since last year, Councilman Jim Johns said he's tired of political game-playing that has cost people their jobs and cost taxpayers two severance packages.
“I've never seen anything so political in my life,” Johns said.
The back-to-back resignations and the severance packages have outraged some residents.
“I'm upset, as a former police officer and a resident, that they're upping taxes and doing this kind of bull with our tax dollars,” resident Lou Smith said last week.
Kyle Lawson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8755, or firstname.lastname@example.org.