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Baldwin Borough Councilman's DPW committee status unclear

| Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

A Baldwin councilman who was charged with theft last month after he was accused of stealing $11 worth of mulch from the municipality now has been relieved of the reading of his public-works reports at borough council meetings.

Eighteen-year Councilman John “Butch” Ferris — who asked the public-works supervisor and borough manager if he could take some mulch to spruce up his flower bed but said he got no definite answer from either — has been chairman of the council's public-works committee for several years.

Baldwin Borough police filed charges of theft by unlawful taking and receiving stolen property against Ferris on Aug. 15 after he was accused of taking about half a cubic yard of mulch from a borough pile in Colewood Park in April. Ferris later returned the mulch.

Council President David Depretis asked borough manager John Barrett to handle the public-works report at the Sept. 10 council meeting, where the agenda listed “TBD” — which stands for “to be determined” — next to the public-works report instead of Ferris' name.

After Barrett completed the public-works report and Councilman Michael Ducker gave the parks-and- recreation report, Ferris, appearing surprised, asked about changes in his public-works duties.

“Mr. Depretis, can I ask you a question? Why am I being stripped from my uhh, public works, uhh?”

“We're trying to protect you. That's all I'll say,” Depretis said.

Ferris asked that his remarks be included in the meeting minutes.

Borough leaders have assigned committee leaders in different ways, Barrett said.

Typically, it is up to the council president to name the committee leaders on council, yet in the past, all members of council have had a say in the committees to which they were named, he said.

Barrett said he is uncertain whether this is a permanent removal of Ferris from the position of chairman of the public-works committee.

Council likely will discuss the issue before a decision is made, Barrett said.

“It's kind of a wait-and-see type thing,” he said.

There was no name listed for the public works report on Tuesday's council agenda. Depretis once again asked Barrett to read the report for the public works committee.

Depretis declined to comment about the public works assignment Tuesday.

Ferris said he has heard nothing further about why he is no longer reading public works reports at council meetings.

“This is all political,” he said. “It's a witch hunt.”

Ferris is scheduled to have a preliminary hearing on his charges in front of District Judge Pat Capolupo in Pleasant Hills on Oct. 30. District Judge John Bova, based in Baldwin Borough, recused himself from the case.

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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