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Monessen's top cop takes school district job

| Thursday, April 18, 2013, 1:36 a.m.

Monessen Mayor Mary Jo Smith will seek a new police chief.

Police Chief Mark Gibson on Wednesday notified Smith and his fellow officers that he will retire from the force and begin a new job with the Monessen School District.

The Monessen School Board on Tuesday hired Gibson as a full-time, armed officer assigned to the elementary center.

The decision seemed to take people by surprise Tuesday night – including Gibson, who initially balked at giving a ‘yes' or ‘no' answer.

“It was an emotional decision … I love my job,” Gibson said. “I have my years in (with the police department), and an opportunity presented itself I didn't think I could pass up.”

Gibson said he will send a letter of resignation to city council and will start his new job May 1, as requested by the school board.

Gibson's annual city salary was approximately $58,000. He will earn $30,000 annually from the school district with no fringe benefits.

Smith said that under the city pension plan, Gibson will receive $39,000 to $40,000 annually and will continue to receive benefits.

Smith said Gibson's departure is bittersweet and an unquestioned loss for the city.

“I told him, ‘If you're asking me if I want you to stay, yes I want you to stay, but if you truly want to leave, I give you my blessing,'” Smith said.

“I understand he has a life and a family, and it's tough being chief, especially in a city like Monessen. I wouldn't want to be in his position, and we certainly did not want to lose him. But he needs to do what he thinks is in his own best interests.”

Gibson, 54, started as a part-time patrolman for Monessen in 1982. He was appointed chief 12 years ago by then-mayor John DeLuca and retained four years ago by Smith.

Gibson suffered an apparent heart attack in 2005 and was briefly hospitalized, but he made a complete recovery.

“It's been a very difficult decision, but with the time I put in and being eligible for my pension, it's time to go,” said Gibson, who gave a verbal salute to Lloyd “Yo Yo” Aldrich, a Monessen officer who retired last month at age 68.

“Getting older for the job we're on, when you have to wrestle people and deal with people, it doesn't get easier with age. That's why policemen have pensions,” Gibson said.

Gibson said the police force was stunned when informed of his decision Wednesday morning.

“They're as shocked as I was,” said Gibson, who learned of the school board's decision while attending the city's Monessen Rising rally Tuesday night at the municipal building. “It's been a whirlwind. They're sad to see me leave, but they understand, because they want to get to that opportunity (to retire) at some point.”

Under third-class city code, Smith has the power to appoint a new chief.

Running for re-election, Smith faces Lou Mavrakis in the Democratic primary.

Robert Zynosky Jr. is seeking the Republican nomination.

If Smith names a new chief before the election, that person could end up being replaced. Should Smith lose, her successor would have the power to appoint a chief.

Gibson said the election did not factor into his decision.

“I will get to spend a lot more time with my family; my son and my daughter are so excited they'll be off all summer with me,” said Gibson, chuckling at the thought.

“I've never had that since high school … to be off all summer long. When you think about it, that's a pretty nice gig. I hate to say that, but it is.”

Gibson, who said he can see his next workplace from his home, suggested the police department will run smoothly in his absence.

“I'm confident, and I will help in any means necessary to help it move forward successfully,” Gibson said.

“Part of me doesn't want to leave. The other part of me says, ‘You're 54, take the opportunity while it exists.'”

Gibson said he will miss the adrenaline rush that comes with law enforcement in the city, “and it's going to definitely be a change, but that's the point.”

Smith declined to say whether she will appoint an interim chief before interviewing candidates for Gibson's position.

The mayor said the next chief will not come from outside the city force, adding she will seek someone similar to Gibson who is “polite and mannerly, respectful and someone who's going to be fair.”

“I think we have more than enough qualified people on our own force,” she said. “I would rather do the interviews and get it over with, so our guys know where we stand … then make a decision about who we could work with and who can run the police force like it has been run.”

Rick Bruni Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at or 724-684-2635.

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