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Arbiter rules in favor of former Monroeville chief Cole

| Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Former Monroeville police Chief Doug Cole could receive about $10,000 in back pay from the municipality after a court-ordered arbitrator ruled that his contract was violated.

Pittsburgh-based lawyer Ronald Talarico ruled Friday that when municipal manager Lynette McKinney demoted Cole “without cause” in February, she should have assigned him to the position of assistant police chief rather than sergeant.

The difference in pay from February through August is $8,703, plus benefits that include sick days and gasoline expenses because Cole could have used a municipal car as assistant police chief. The ruling awards Cole back pay and benefits.

Court-ordered arbitration stemmed from a lawsuit in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court that Cole filed against the municipality in February that said his contract was breached.

“We fully anticipated that this would be the result, and we're glad the arbitrator saw things our way,” Michael Colarusso, the attorney for Cole.

As of Tuesday, attorneys for Cole and the municipality were calculating an exact figure for back pay and benefits that Cole is due. Cole declined to comment.

Attorney Bob Zunich, who is representing Monroeville in the lawsuit, did not return phone calls seeking comment. McKinney did not return phone calls seeking comment.

McKinney placed Cole on administrative leave in August. She fired him in September after accusations that Monroeville firefighters violated the employee handbook by accessing police information in the municipality's dispatch computer system prior to his February demotion. As the police chief at the time, Cole oversaw the dispatch center.

The police union filed appeals on both decisions. Both arbitration hearings are scheduled for Jan. 24, Colarusso said.

After Talarico released his ruling, McKinney sent an email to Monroeville Council members stated that said Cole's status will remain as fired, pending the January arbitration hearings.

Colarusso said that he disagrees, citing language in Talarico's decision.

“The municipality shall immediately reinstate Cole to the position of assistant chief of police together with the payment of all lost wages and benefits,” Talarico wrote.

Talarico did not return calls seeking comment.

Monroeville Councilman Clarence Ramsey — who has voiced his approval at council meetings for the recent personnel decisions by McKinney — said he hasn't been following recent events.

“I don't know what's going on with that,” Ramsey said.

Councilwoman Lois Drumheller — who also is a member of a four-person council majority that promoted McKinney to manager — directed questions to McKinney, who has said previously that she will not discuss personnel issues.

Mayor Greg Erosenko said last week if he was re-elected, he would fight to return Cole to police chief.

“I knew, as a retired labor official, Doug would win his case, and as the old saying goes, ‘Things are now going full circle,'” Erosenko said.

Monroeville's police department is among the largest in the county, with about 45 officers. The department responds to about 18,000 calls each year.

Kyle Lawson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8755, or klawson@tribweb.com.

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