Penn Hills official faces removal over background check policy |
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Dillon Carr

Penn Hills Council is expected to vote Thursday to remove a longstanding appointed official from the municipality’s planning commission for refusing to comply with a rule requiring him to undergo a criminal background check.

The planning commissioner, Jerry Chiappinelli, said he didn’t submit to a background check because he did not trust the mayor and council with his personal information.

Councilman John Petrucci said Chiappinelli is one of several board and committee members who have not undergone a criminal background check, which is required under a resolution adopted in December.

Petrucci said council learned that Chiappinelli had a criminal record.

According to that record, which the Tribune-Review obtained and reviewed, Chiappinelli was charged in 1975 with simple assault and making terroristic threats after being accused of threatening to hurt a man and pointing a gun at him during an incident in Plum.

The record shows an Allegheny County Grand Jury dismissed the case against Chiappinelli a few months after charges were brought against him on Oct. 29, 1975.

Chiappinelli was 29 at the time. He does not have any other criminal offenses on his record, according to Allegheny County court records.

Council’s vote will take place at a special meeting at Penn Hills Council Chambers at 11 a.m.

According to an announcement posted Monday on its website, the meeting will be held “to discuss background check requirements and possible action regarding removal of appointed officials for noncompliance and any other business that may come before Council.”

As of Tuesday afternoon, Penn Hills has not posted an official agenda for the meeting.

The policy requires that all “applicants and members of all municipal boards, commissions and committees submit to a criminal background check.”

When the policy was adopted, Manager Scott Andrejchak said he was directed by the mayor and council to distribute letters to all board, committee and commission members asking them to submit to a criminal background check.

“This was done twice,” Andrejchak said. “From there, it’s under the purview of mayor and council how to proceed on those matters. In general, appointments and removals are the discretion of mayor and council.”

Petrucci, a main proponent of the policy, said around 40% of those subject to a background check have yet to comply.

Petrucci said council held an emergency executive session on Aug. 24 to discuss Chiappinelli’s record. He did not say how the mayor and council became aware of Chiappinelli’s record.

“He had two chances to comply … refusal to comply is grounds for dismissal,” Petrucci said.

Chiappinelli, who is serving his third four-year term on the Penn Hills Planning Commission, said he never complied because he didn’t trust the gatekeepers of the information: mayor and council.

“They wanted all my personal information and it would be put into an unsecured location. Mayor and council would have access to all my personal information,” he said. “I am not giving up my civil rights.”

As for the criminal record, Chiappinelli said the person who filed charges against him was assaulting and robbing his father at his “teenage night club,” dubbed One-Eyed Jack’s in Plum.

“I threw him out of the place and they were all jumping my car,” he said, adding that he went outside, fired his gun into the air and told them all to leave.

He said he didn’t know why the man filed charges against him.

The criminal complaint said Chiappinelli “grabbed (the victim) by the hair and was banging his head against the door of his car.”

Chiappinelli did not deny that charge when asked by a reporter, but he said he doesn’t remember banging the man’s head against a car.

“When your dad is being beaten, you’d do anything,” he said.

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