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Kittanning hires police chief — maybe

| Tuesday, April 23, 2013, 8:11 a.m.

KITTANNING — Kittanning Borough has a new chief of police — or does it?

“Mr. (Bruce) Matthews is the new police chief,” said council President Chris Schiano, following Monday's 5-2 vote during a special meeting.

However, Matthews is being disciplined for reasons council plans to discuss at the regular monthly meeting in May.

“We will discuss it at the next meeting,” said Chris Schiano, council president. “We do owe specifics on the police chief.”

Council members Mike Rosenberger, Betsy Wilt, Joie Pryde, Kim Fox and Schiano voted in favor of hiring Matthews.

Councilmen Richard Reedy and Andrew Peters voted against hiring Matthews.

It was voted on after council asked for nominations from the floor.

Reedy nominated Richard “Pete” Harmon, the borough's acting officer in charge.

“I've known Pete for years and years,” Reedy said.

According to Reedy, Harmon has been involved in the community, including youth activities and sporting events in Wick City.

Reedy made a motion, seconded by Peters, to vote to hire Harmon as chief.

Rosenberger, Wilt, Pryde, Fox and Schiano voted against hiring Harmon in favor of Matthews.

Councilman Ange Turco abstained from voting for either candidate.

“I'm very unhappy with the way things are going, said Turco. “I think it should be based on performance.”

He said he had suggested to other council members during an executive session that two or three police chief candidates be given a chance to work as temporary chief before the decision was voted on.

“I didn't have enough support so I'm going to abstain,” said Turco.

Council voted despite resident Tim Crytzer's request to table the decision again until after the primary election.

Crytzer said he thought the police department was running fine with Harmon working his regular shift at no extra cost.

“I don't think it is (running well) with an officer in charge,” said Schiano.

He told council they shouldn't be intimidated by people attending the meeting.

“We're going to pick a police chief tonight. This is not a town hall meeting,” said Schaino.

Kittanning resident and former borough police chief Bob “Stretch” Hulings said he had started with the Kittanning Police Department in 1969. He noted that he also had served as a firefighter and was on council in the past.

“I really firmly believe we need a police chief,” he said. “You have to go with your gut feeling. I think you've made your decision. The budget is a guideline and sometimes you have to move the guideline a little.”

The decision to hire the new police chief came after council members broke for a 20-minute executive session.

Before they did, however, Randy Cloak, 2nd Ward write-in candidate for borough council, addressed council:

“It's obvious Roberts Rules of Order (parliamentary procedure for meetings) are not your forte, and I'm not sure if you've read your Borough Rules,” said Cloak.

He echoed Crytzer's concerns, asking council to disclose details of the chief's salary and to give an explanation about how the money would be budgeted.

“You're still going to need to hire another officer,” said Cloak. “That will mean between $30,000 to $35,000 (a year) at minimum. That's 1 mill of taxes at minimum.”

Schaino said he was not going to look at line items in the budget.

“I think you should stop campaigning,” Schiano told Cloak.

After the executive session, Schiano said there was $20,000 in the budget, not counting drug task money, to keep Matthews at his current salary during his first-year probationary period.

Schiano also noted that the executive session on April 15 was held to discuss the police chief matter a little more.

Schiano said after the meeting that according to Borough Solicitor Chase McClister, council was able to vote for Matthews as chief despite disciplinary action.

“Our solicitor's advice is it can be done pending the resolution of the discipline,” said Schiano, and reiterated that the matter would be discussed May 6 during the regular monthly meeting.

Matthews earns around $61,000 and would continue earning that wage for his probationary period of one year, said Schiano.

He said the decision to choose Matthews over Harmon was a difficult one.

“This was the toughest choice I ever made in my life,” said Schiano.

But Matthews' credentials as a veteran and as a professional stood out for Schiano.

Fox said she didn't know Matthews well at the beginning of the interview process but liked his ideas on cost-cutting measures.

He's had around 20 years of experience and lives in town, said Fox.

“All the guys were very good, but he was above and beyond,” she said.

According to Fox, there is $482,560 in the 2013 budget for the police force, not including the chief's salary.

Pryde said it's also likely there could be savings from a decrease in health insurance rates for borough employees.

Cloak was still clearly unsatisfied with the outcome of the meeting.

“There has been this unprecedented rush to appoint a chief of police, and now we have hired a police chief, but we still have no chief,” said Cloak. “Why hire someone who is suspended?”

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