Boro residents, businesses concerned over status of chief
A few Mount Oliver residents and business owners have recently complained that they did not know when the borough council business meetings were held.
Council president Don Cornelius noted council meetings have been conducted on the third Monday night of every month at the borough building on Brownsville Road for more than 75 years.
Apparently, a lot of the citizens now realize where and when council regularly convenes. So many showed up at the February 19 meeting, most could not be seated in council chambers. An estimated 60 to 70 mostly irate citizens showed at the meeting. The majority had to stand in the hallway outside of council chambers. Eleven people spoke at the public hearing portion of the agenda.
Ten of those who addressed council asked Mr. Cornelius about the employment status of Police Chief Frank Mosesso. They also wanted to know about the future of the police department in general.
Rumors have been circulating for several months that the chief will be gone from the borough when his contract expires December 31. There is also concern that the police department may eventually be disbanded like it has in many small municipalities in Allegheny County that are having budgetary difficulties like Mount Oliver.
The meeting was a raucous one with the citizens expressing their outrage over the possibility of the borough police taking a step backward without Chief Mosesso.
“The business people are concerned that the chief will not be retained and the police department may become only part-time. The business people are in agreement that we should have a full-time police force and we need to have as many [full-time] officers as our budget will allow,” said Rosemary Geyer who has owned and personally operated a hair-cutting salon on Brownsville Road for 24 years.
There are 10 uniformed patrolmen in the department. This includes five full-time officers and five part-time patrolmen.
Chief Mosesso indicated that he has dealt directly with borough solicitor James Perich about extending the chief's contract beyond this year. The chief said he has offered to renew the contract with a wage freeze using his 2006 salary as the figure for his compensation beginning in 2008.
Mr. Mosesso also said if that is not acceptable, he would be willing to agree to a contract calling for compensation using his 2005 salary figure in order to have funding available to promote a part-time patrolmen to full-time status.
“He's a really good police officer and I would hate to lose him to another department,” said the chief, not wanting to reveal the name of the talented part-timer.
Mr. Cornelius did not have any specific comment on Mr. Mosesso's contention that “negotiations” have taken place between the chief and borough.
Mr. Cornelius only claims there has not been any communication on this matter between the chief and borough council. He also noted that this personnel issue, which is protected from being discussed in public by the State Sunshine Law, has not even been discussed in private caucus meetings.
“There has been absolutely no talk by this council at all about the chief and that is typical with the way a contract goes,” Mr. Cornelius said. “We've done that with the street department and we've done that with the Teamster's Union [renew a contract several weeks before a current one expires]. We have other contracts with the police sergeants and that wasn't [worked out to an agreement] until 60 days before their old contract expired. There are rumors out there that something is happening [to fire the chief], but this council has never discussed it [Mosesso's future status] one way or the other.”
After the meeting, Mrs. Geyer continued to express her displeasure with the apparent lame-duck status that the chief is working under.
“If there is a decision to be made [about a contract extension], then why can't the people in the borough be a part of that decision since it affects us? We were told that it is council's decision and ultimately it is up to Don Cornelius. Council is supposed to serve as the representatives of the people, so they better start representing them,” said Mrs. Geyer, a regular attendee at the council meetings who occasionally speaks during the citizens' public hearing segment.
Other “regulars” who also questioned the chief's employment status included former councilman Dennis Obeldobel and resident John Prokop who has lived in the borough for more than 40 years. They were joined by dozens of other business owners and residents over their concern of how borough council has been conducting its business in recent months.
Mrs. Geyer has said on several occasions at council meetings that the chief and his department have done a very good job in cleaning up the drug-dealing and other unsavory activity that has transpired on Brownsville Road in recent years.
After a year's long investigation while working through the LCB, the borough police were able to get a Brownsville Road bar a few doors from Mrs. Geyer's salon, shut down in the middle of last year. Also permanently closed for allegedly dealing drugs, shortly after the bar closure, was an independent “convenience” store on Brownsville Road. The Mount Oliver police also successfully removed known drug-dealers from approximately five or six residential addresses in the borough last year.
In a matter also related to the police department, the people wanted to know why Councilmen Jim Cassidy was relieved of his duty as chairman of the public safety committee in January. Mr. Cassidy was replaced by Kelly Prilla who was only appointed to council in December as a replacement for Peter Talak who resigned last November for personal reasons.
Ms. Prilla, an administrative assistant for an accounting firm, has no previous experience in public safety matters while Mr. Cassidy has been the long-time president of the Mount Oliver Volunteer Fire Company.
At the meeting, Mr. Cassidy did not want to explain why Mr. Cornelius decided to appoint the inexperienced Ms. Prilla as the Public Safety Committee chair. Mr. Cornelius noted that it is his prerogative as council president to make committee changes at the beginning of each year.
The borough mayor (Jeff Repasky) is in charge of the day-to-day function of the police department. However, the council person who chairs the public safety committee is in charge of the annual funding for the department.
There is a possible civil suit pending against the borough filed by a member of the police department. Mr. Cornelius believes it is in the best interest of the borough to have Ms. Prilla as the public safety committee chair because of her background in finance and accounting.
Not wanting to go into detail about the possible civil suit, Mr. Cornelius told the citizens that if the borough were to lose its case, the payout would “cripple” the borough financially and the police department would suffer greatly because of it.
“No offense to Miss Prilla, but why would you appoint someone to such an important position who is new to council?” Mrs. Geyer asked. “What Mr. Cornelius did to Mr. Cassidy was very inappropriate. Why not keep the one who is tried and true and has the experience?”
Mr. Obeldobel noted that the council president went back on his word by removing Mr. Cassidy from the public safety chairmanship. As an out-going council member at the time, Mr. Obeldobel noted that Mr. Cassidy agreed to support Mr. Cornelius as council president prior to Mr. Cornelius' approval in January, 2006 (replacing then-retiring council member Marty Palma as president). For his support, Mr. Cornelius agreed to appoint Mr. Cassidy to the public safety committee chair.
“It was a really enlightening meeting,” Mrs. Geyer said.
“There is always a negative element out there [always questioning] what we do,” Mr. Cornelius said. “We serve on council because we love the borough. Our decisions affect us as much as anybody. Some people seem to forget that we live here too. I know we've made mistakes from time to time, but we've always acted in the best interest of the borough and I think this council has really made a [positive] difference. We support our police. They have done a wonderful job.
“When you come to the council meetings and you hear me talk, I give nothing but the true facts and I challenge anybody to challenge me on these facts.”