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Elimination of Fallowfield police force draws ire

| Thursday, Aug. 26, 2010

FALLOWFIELD TOWNSHIP — Having failed to get answers as to why the township police department is being disbanded — or resignations from the two supervisors who voted to eliminate the force at year's end — angry residents are planning to protest outside the homes of Supervisors Olga Woodward and Earl Sadler.

Woodward and Sadler voted to eliminate the police force when the union contract expires at the end of the year. Supervisor Dave Ekves voted to retain the force.

The protests could begin as early as next week. A Save our Police committee is expected to meet this weekend to schedule the pickets.

That decision came after another fruitless attempt to learn more about the decision to eliminate the force on Wednesday evening.

About 150 residents jammed into the township fire hall Wednesday night, again seeking to learn the reason the board voted 2-1 in May to dissolve the police department.

The supervisors, though, refused to answer any questions posed to them, stating they are facing pending litigation involving the police department.

Former supervisor Donn Henderson asked what litigation the township is facing. Solicitor Keith Melenyzer said the union has filed for arbitration in its contract matter. Henderson said that is not litigation, but Melenyzer said "in my opinion, arbitration is litigation."

The supervisors acknowledged that no contract offer had been made to the police union prior to the May 26 to disband the department when the current pact expires at year's end.

Asked why the supervisors did not hold public hearings on the matter before voting to disband the department, Supervisor Earl Sadler said, "We went through the proper process."

Henderson said he plans to ask the Washington County District Attorney to investigate the matter under the whistleblower statute. He alleged that Woodward has a vendetta against Officer Jonathan Crouch because he brought information to the supervisors' attention that led to the dismissal of then-Officer-in-Charge Robert Helphenstine.

In November 2008, Woodward nominated to hire Helphenstine and name him officer-in-charge, a 2-1 vote that Henderson opposed.

Helphenstine is awaiting trial on charges alleging he harbored a 17-year-old Virginia boy in his home, where they engaged in sexual activity. Helphenstine is charged with endangering the welfare of children and official oppression.

Shawn Ayers told the supervisors the residents "elected you by popular vote and I don't think this is a popular decision."

Supervisors Olga Woodward and Sadler declined to discuss their vote to eliminate the department. Supervisor Dave Ekves, who voted against eliminating the force, said he did not know why the vote was taken.

"They kept you out of the loop," Ayers said.

Resident and business owner Jim Rach called the supervisors the employees of the voters/residents of the township.

"My employees are governed by me and you're governed by us," Rach said. "You've just been fired. We ask for your resignation."

Larry Healey also called for Woodward and Sadler to resign.

Connie Rach told the supervisors her 11-year-old son asked her about "Save our Police" signs he has seen displayed around the community.

"He said, 'I learned in school police are supposed to save us,'" Connie Rach said. "Just like the rest of us, my 11-year-old is worried that we're going to lose our police."

Jay Celaschi said his concern is for the safety of the children.

"Earl, you have grandchildren that live across the street from me," Celaschi said. "You don't care about whether the police get there?"

Constable Ron Sethman said when Bentleyville got rid of its police department, he served more arrest warrants in that community.

"When you get rid of the police department, all of the crime is going to flow over here," Sethman said.

Ida Radvansky asked who would provide security when the Charleroi Area School District builds a new football stadium at its township campus. The current stadium is in Charleroi.

Jennifer Seaton, owner of the Dairy Queen, said it took over a year to stop the drug deals that were occurring in the parking lot of her business and that was with the help of the township police.

"Whatever you do in life, you have to live with it," said Dennis Paluso. "With what you're doing, I hope you sleep well at night."

Joe Furjanic called the decision "government against the will of the people."

"I don't ask much of government, but I ask them to protect me," Furjanic said. "With state police (responding), 911 is nothing more than government-sponsored dial-a-prayer."

Carl Bailey, representative for Teamsters Local 205, said the township would incur thousands of dollars in arbitration costs that can be avoided if the supervisors agree to meet with the police union.

"We're not going away easy," Bailey said. "I'm going to do everything lawfully within my power to keep this police department going."

Bailey thanked Ekves for voting to save the force. But he told Ekves that the township health insurance policy he has will expire with the police department.

"They don't care about your family," Bailey told Ekves.

"But then they don't care about their families, he added, motioning to the residents.

As the meeting was winding down, Ann Darby asked, "Olga/Earl, when can we expect your resignations?"

The supervisors adjourned the meeting without responding.

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