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Baldwin Borough councilman in hot water after taking $11 worth of mulch

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Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
 

A public apology for stealing industrial-grade mulch from a municipal park may not keep a Baldwin Borough councilman from facing criminal charges.

Baldwin Borough police this week plan to file a theft charge against Baldwin Borough Councilman John “Butch” Ferris for taking about half a cubic yard, or $11 worth, of mulch from the Colewood Park playground, police Chief Michael Scott said Tuesday.

Ferris, who has served on Baldwin Borough Council for many years, apologized during Tuesday's council meeting.

“I shouldn't have done that. It's not my mulch. It's your mulch,” he said.

Ferris, chairman of the borough's public works committee, returned the mulch to Baldwin police on Tuesday. Ferris said he approached both public works superintendent Mark Stephenson and borough Manager John Barrett asking if he could take the mulch.

He wanted the mulch from the borough because he couldn't find a color that matched it in the stores, he said, and it coordinated nicely with his flower bed.

“It matched everything real nice,” Ferris said. “I took very little of it. Nonetheless I was stone wrong.”

Neither Barrett or Stephenson gave Ferris a direct answer when he asked if he could take the mulch, Ferris said. Barrett and council President David Depretis declined to comment. Stephenson could not be reached for comment.

“The answer I got was, ‘Don't worry about it.' So, I just went down and I got it,” Ferris said. “Basically what I did was ask employees to give me something because I was an elected official. No, that doesn't fly.

“It's totally wrong.”

Baldwin police received a complaint about the theft in May, Scott said.

Ferris “readily admitted” to taking the mulch, Scott said.

Members of Baldwin Council, the guiding body of the victim, which is the borough, agreed for Ferris to issue public and written apologizes in lieu of facing charges, Scott said.

Ferris said he received a letter written by borough solicitor Stanley Lederman which he was asked to read and sign. The letter stated the councilman would repay the borough for the mulch he took. Instead, Ferris read his own statement on Tuesday and declined to sign the document.

“I didn't write it,” Ferris said.

Although the document wasn't inaccurate, he said, the verbiage was not his.

“It's on how it's worded,” Ferris said.

The statement read by Ferris on Tuesday night “did not meet the requirements” issued by borough officials and charges likely will be filed, Scott said.

“What can I do?” Ferris said.

Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or shacke@tribweb.com.

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