North Huntingdon chief says officer has been creating a 'negative environment'
The North Huntingdon police chief is pressing elected officials to help him solve a problem that he says is dividing the department and has led to three investigations against him.
North Huntingdon police Chief Andrew Lisiecki asked commissioners to fire a longtime officer, who the chief said is creating a “negative environment.” He did not name the officer or provide specific actions that warrant disciplinary action.
“In May of 2012 ... I was offered, and enthusiastically accepted, the position of chief,” Lisiecki said at a recent commissioners meeting during which he read a seven-page statement outlining the problems he has been experiencing.
“Never in my wildest nightmares did I ever expect to be subjected to the vile and malicious treatment by a disgruntled member of the department and his supporters and allies.”
North Huntingdon officials did not identify the officer because it is a personnel matter, which is among the exclusions allowed under the state Sunshine Law. The issue will be handled internally, said township Manager John Shepherd.
“I believe the majority of this board is taking the chief's comments very seriously and are looking into it,” Commissioner Rich Gray said.
Commissioner Brian West said: “(The chief) has given us a lot of stuff that we need to process and look into.”
While Commissioner Tom Krause said he supports Lisiecki, he does not think the chief should have made the comments in public. Commissioner Zachary Haigis also was critical of Lisieki's decision to speak publicly about personnel problems.
The police chief does not have the authority to fire officers, but can mete out limited suspensions, Shepherd said.
“Cases of what I call lower-level discipline such as suspension for several days or a week would not have to be voted on by the board of commissioners,” Shepherd said. “But they would be asked to vote on a longer-term suspension or termination.”
Upper-level managers such as Lisiecki, are at-will employees and can be dismissed without cause by the board of commissioners.
Most of the township's employees are covered by collective bargaining agreements containing specific steps that must be taken to fire an employee, Shepherd said.
Craig Alexander, the township's solicitor, said the infractions for which an officer can be disciplined are spelled out in the state's first class township code, which states an officer can be suspended without pay, removed or reduced in rank for the following reasons:
• Physical or mental disability affecting the person's ability to continue in service, in which cases the person shall receive an honorable discharge from service.
• Neglect or violation of an official duty.
• Violation of any law with the violation being a misdemeanor or felony.
• Inefficiency, neglect, intemperance, immorality, disobedience of orders or conduct unbecoming a police officer.
• Intoxication while on duty.
• Engaging or participating in any political election campaign while on duty or in uniform or while using borough property.
Any personnel action, however, could be challenged through the grievance process, which includes appealing disciplinary action to the township manager and then board of commissioners, said Det. Kirk Youngstead, president of the North Huntingdon Police Fraternal Relief Association, the union that representing the muncipality's 25 officers.
“If an officer is not satisfied with the outcome, they have the option of going to (state) arbitration,” Youngstead said.
Lisiecki said that during his first eight months as chief, he was the target of two internal investigations. He also referred to a third investigation that was launched against him after township police charged Commissioner David Herold with disorderly conduct in connection with a road rage incident in October.
Herold, who was found not guilty of the charges by a district judge, according to court records, did not return messages seeking comment.
According to Lisiecki, the investigations against him found no wrongdoing.
According to a spokeswoman for Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck, there currently are no investigations involving Lisiecki.
The commissioners who responded to calls for comment declined to say who conducted the private investigation.
The chief said the problem he has been having with the officer has “led to a division among members of the department and have led to a serious morale problem that I alone cannot fix.”
Tony LaRussa is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-856-7400, ext. 8626, or at email@example.com.