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Council elevates interim police chief in latest Monroeville action

| Thursday, March 7, 2013, 11:15 p.m.

Monroeville Council voted to promote its interim police chief to the job permanently in the latest episode of battling among town administrators and elected officials.

“He understands the immense issues facing our community and our police department,” said interim Manager Lynette McKinney, who sponsored the resolution Thursday night to elevate Steve Pascarella to chief. It passed in a 4-3 vote reflecting council voting alliances.

The vote overshadowed council's separate approval of 0.547-mill property tax increase, to 2.431 mills — the first increase in more than 20 years.

Council members Diane Allison, Lois Drumheller, Clarence Ramsey and Bernhard Erb voted to promote Pascarella. Jim Johns, Steve Duncan and Nick Gresock voted against his promotion.

Pascarella was the only candidate who interviewed for the job, McKinney said.

Residents in February attended two meetings to support Sgt. Doug Cole, the former chief. McKinney subsequently named Pascarella as interim chief.

McKinney demoted Cole on Feb. 1. She acted after former manager Jeff Silka resigned, saying he did so because council members pressured him to remove Cole from the post.

“You don't make your decision based on one person no matter how qualified that person is,” resident Ed Bihary said at Thursday's meeting, attended by about 50 people. “We put you people (council) here and we can take you out.”

Taxpayers began paying for Pascarella's post-high school education when he became assistant chief in 2011, officials said. Council will vote March 12 whether to continue funding his education so he can earn a bachelor's degree from Point Park University. The degree is required for the chief's job.

Having Monroeville pay for the degree drew particular animosity from residents.

“There are far more things we could be doing then paying for lawsuits, severance packages and college,” said Tammy Richardson. “Let us pay for things of substance.”

Mayor Greg Erosenko said although Pascarella has experience to head the department, the municipality cannot afford to pay for his education.

“Pascarella is a very qualified cop. He just doesn't have the degree,” Erosenko said.

Council is poised to vote McKinney's promotion to manager and on the question of whether the municipality should pay for her bachelor's degree, which she would pursue while managing the municipality.

Monroeville previously required managers to have three years' experience in government administration and a bachelor's degree in public administration or a related field.

Erosenko, who butts heads with McKinney, balked at the idea of paying for her degree.

“I think it doesn't make any sense,” Erosenko said. “There's no other business in the world that would hire a CEO, not qualified, then say, ‘Because we like you, we're going to let you go to college to get qualified.' ”

The property tax increase allows Monroeville to bring in more revenue despite the state's 5 percent cap on increases following property reassessments. Council received approval from Allegheny County Common Pleas Court to exceed the cap.

Monroeville has run an average $4 million deficit in each of the years from 2002 to 2011, according to the 2013 budget.

The owner of a home assessed at $150,000 in 2012, with a property value increase of 26 percent, will pay $461 in taxes to Monroeville, a hike of $131, according to a study by the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy.

Monroeville Finance Director Susan Werksman said the owner of a home assessed at $100,000 in 2013 will pay $63 more this year.

Kyle Lawson is a reporter for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400 or klawson@tribweb.com.

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