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Former Springdale councilman's record will state: Retired, not fired

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By Michael Aubele
Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2012

Springdale Council altered borough history on Tuesday by declaring that Councilman Gene Polsinelli's 19-year tenure as a part-time police officer ended in 2006 with his retirement, not his firing.

Voting 4-2, council agreed to amend Polsinelli's official file.

Councilman John Molnar made the motion for the change, saying he "never believed there was any wrongdoing" on Polsinelli's part.

Councilmen Jason Fry and Dan Copeland voted against, arguing the borough felt it important at the time to spend time and money pursuing Polsinelli's firing.

Polsinelli, who has served as a councilman since May, abstained from the vote.

He said the primary reason he requested the change amounts to a point of pride. He would rather tell people he retired from the force as opposed to having been fired. He also said the status change will allow him to carry a concealed weapon under the federal Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act of 2004.

Polsinelli denied he used his influence as a councilman to affect the change, saying he approached council members about a year ago with his request, "before I was even thinking of running for council."

Council President Dave Finley said Polsinelli will not be returning to the force and the change won't cost the borough any money because Polsinelli isn't eligible for benefits because he was never full time.

Council fired Polsinelli on Feb. 16, 2006, for his handling of an incident in which he arrested former Borough Secretary April Winklmann in September 2005 for turning off the police department's Internet service after being asked not to.

Polsinelli filed an obstruction-of-justice charge against Winklmann after consulting with an Allegheny County assistant district attorney, who later withdrew the charge. Winklmann then was reinstated to her job, sued the borough and settled for an undisclosed amount of money.

According to a termination notice, the reasons for Polsinelli's firing included accessing the borough's computer system and trying to distribute information from it to borough employees and private citizens and violating the duties of his position by "relentlessly pursuing" Winklmann's arrest for personal reasons.

Polsinelli has a history of litigation with the borough:

• In February 1995, eight years after first starting employment with the borough, he was put on inactive status after council said the police department had too many part-time employees. The matter was taken to court. Four years later, a county judge ruled in Polsinelli's favor, saying the layoffs were politically motivated and ordered him back to work with $42,000 in back pay.

• In 2002, he contested being assigned to foot detail because he suffered from sleep apnea. He was being treated for the sleep disorder through his physician, but the borough said it still was a source of liability. The borough refused to let him drive until he got a clearance from a pulmonologist, who was designated to oversee the case by a court order.

• In 2003, Polsinelli filed a suit against the Arnold Civil Service Commission, Springdale Borough and Springdale police Chief Joe Naviglia for allegedly removing him from a list of eligible job candidates without just cause.

The latter two cases were settled out of court. Polsinelli refused to reveal the settlement terms.

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