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Official quits over police chief's resignation

| Wednesday, May 9, 2012, 1:45 p.m.

The chairman of the North Huntingdon Township Civil Service Commission has stepped down over what he called the forced resignation of police Chief Charles Henaghan.

"A number of (commissioners) over the years have tried to get Chuck Henaghan out," said John Skooglund, 74, who spent almost 15 years on the civil service commission. The current makeup of the board of commissioners includes a majority that wanted to see the chief go, he said.

Henaghan, 56, accepted an incentive package offered by the township and will resign at the end of the year after 14 years as chief.

"I could not give my allegiance to this board," Skooglund said. Township commissioners accepted Skooglund's resignation Wednesday.

Skooglund, who retired from Westinghouse 16 years ago, joined the civil service commission in 1989 after the embattled tenure of then public safety director William Brkovich.

Henaghan was named chief after Brkovich was fired and generally is credited with restoring credibility to the department.

Brkovich was fired in 1988 after a grand jury recommended he be prosecuted for fixing both traffic tickets and a drunken driving case against a friend. He was acquitted of ticket-fixing charges, and the drunken driving case was dropped.

Over the years, Skooglund and Henaghan became close.

Township Commissioner Don Austin, who served 31 years on the police force, said Skooglund's resignation was a surprise to the board.

"He did a credible job, but that's his choice," he said.

The commissioners are interviewing applicants for openings on a number of boards and commissions, Commissioner Richard Gray said. The six-year term of civil service Commissioner Tim Barger is up, and the vacancy left by Skooglund's resignation will be resolved in the near future, he said.

Gray said hiring a police chief will be one of the most important decisions facing the board in a number of years.

"To me, this is the most crucial hiring we've done in my tenure on the board," he said.

Gray said that no one has been ruled out as a candidate but acknowledged the issue is politically charged.

"The way it's being politicized, I think it's pretty tacky," he said.

Gray said he sees the chief's job as an administrative post that shouldn't fall under civil service guidelines. "That's the way I'm leaning, anyway," he said.

Skooglund said he hoped the township could find a replacement for Henaghan from within the department.

"I hope that they can find somebody who will do real well from the force," he said.

About 100 residents voiced their support for promoting from within at a commissioners' meeting Wednesday. The board has hired an Atlanta, Ga.-based company to conduct a nationwide search for a new chief.

The idea of using a search firm may not be such a bad thing, Skooglund said. "That may be a way to get a look at people from around the country and our own people," he said.

If it were up to Skooglund, he would ask the civil service commission to hold a series of tests for the candidates. "That would give us at least a pretty good analysis of how these people would handle different situations."

Skooglund said he'll continue to volunteer in a number of endeavors. He serves as vice president of a Westinghouse retirees group that accounted for 63,000 volunteer hours last year.

"I really enjoyed it," he said of his work on the civil service commission. "But you can see with my allegiance to Chuck that I won't be going on."

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