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Forward Twp. cops get new deal, boss

| Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013, 12:22 a.m.
Mark Holtzman, new Forward Township police chief. 1-9-13
Mark Holtzman, new Forward Township police chief. 1-9-13

Forward Township police have a new contract, and the department soon will have a new leader in Mark Holtzman.

The township supervisors approved a one-year agreement with Teamsters Local 205, which represents the officers. It contains a provision for a one-year renewal.

The old pact expired Dec. 31.

The contract is pending a contingency the state Labor Relations Board must approve: Removal of the chief of police position from the bargaining unit, township solicitor Matt Racunas said. He said a joint petition by the union and the township will be filed with the state.

The contract provides a 2 percent raise.

Racunas said most of the provisions in the contract remain. The township was able to negotiate changes in days off, vacation and pay rate scales.

“The terms were favorable for the township,” Racunas said. “Essentially, the township was able to gain lot of terms it lost in the previous agreement.”

Racunas confirmed that a year ago, the supervisors discussed the possibility of disbanding the force. But he said that was not addressed during the most recent negotiations.

“It's all a moot point now, because they're under contract,” Racunas said.

The supervisors unanimously hired Holtzman as chief at a salary of $52,000 for the first year. Holtzman's salary will rise to $57,000 if he remains with the department beyond the first year, Supervisor David Magiske said.

“Hopefully it will work out,” said Supervisor Tom DeRosa, who has had issues with the department on a number of occasions over past two years.

DeRosa said he hopes hiring a chief will bring an end to what he sees as discipline problems within the ranks.

“Hopefully we can get back on track and everything in place again,” DeRosa said.

DeRosa said Holtzman can start as soon as he gets all his clearances in order.

Holtzman previously served as deputy police chief in McKeesport. Holtzman is a member of the McKeesport School Board.

Holtzman, 56, said he is excited about getting back into law enforcement.

“I'm coming out of retirement from one of the greatest police departments of all time,” said Holtzman, who started his career in McKeesport in 1991 and retired in February 2011 after serving 11 years as deputy chief. “I'm looking forward to working with the officers out there.”

“Mark has 30 years experience, and we felt we needed that in order to successfully handle our situation,” Magiske said.

The township has been without a police chief since 2009, when Tom Staley retired. Staley was a member of the police union. Officer-in-charge Robert Curdie has been acting head of the department since May 2010.

Curdie likely will receive a promotion to sergeant once the new chief takes over, DeRosa said.

Carl Bailey, the police union local's chief executive officer, said the hiring of Holtzman has potential to bring accord between police and the supervisors.

“They need a chief over there to stabilize the place,” said Bailey.

Noting the supervisors have approved the new police contract, Bailey said, “I'm hoping everybody can get along.”

Prior to adoption of the new contract, police had spent much of 2012 working under a contract that did not have the union's approval. A Labor Relations Board hearing officer's decision this fall voided the agreement on grounds that it constituted an unfair labor practice because it was made without the police department's union representative being present.

The contract problems followed what had been a year of friction between supervisors and police in 2011.

At several meetings that year, supervisors accused police of not writing traffic tickets, losing and breaking equipment, abusing workers' compensation, and not showing up for court appearances.

In July 2011, the supervisors told the police union it would disband the force if their complaints against the behavior of some officers were not resolved.

Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or Trib Total Media staff writer Eric Slagle contributed to this report.

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