South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By David Assad
Contributing Writer 

Residents push Mt. Oliver council for details on suit


April 10, 2007

Mount Oliver council meetings have become a hot ticket among borough residents and business people.

Standing-room-only crowds have been showing up at the municipality's regular council meetings in recent months.

When borough council convenes April 16, another packed house is expected in council chambers. One of the more talked-about items at these recent sessions has been the possibility of a civil suit being sought against the borough by a police employee for harassment on the job.

The possibility of this happening was first brought to light publicly by then-council president Don Cornelius when he said a potential judgment against the borough could bring the municipality “to its knees” financially.

Some of the vociferous critics of the council members want borough officials to give more details about the possible case under the state's Right to Know Act.

However, solicitor James Perich said this is confidential information that should not be released to the public in order to protect those involved. Mr. Perich said if the information is publicly revealed, it would be damaging to the reputation of the individual(s) being charged. The borough solicitor cites that if the charges are proven to be unfounded, the defendant(s) will have a reputation irreparably damaged.

It is also inappropriate to reveal the nature of the possible suit and persons involved because the person filing the suit also has the right to privacy until it is brought before a court of law, according to the solicitor.

Mr. Perich told those who demanded more details at the March 19 council meeting that he would study the Right to Know Act and render an opinion on the matter at the April meeting.

“We're hoping he tells us more about the case, but I don't know if he will,” said former councilman Dennis Obeldobel, one of the biggest critics of the current council since he left office in January, 2005.

Mr. Obeldobel and his wife Tammy Obeldobel are both running in the May primary against incumbents Don Cornelius, John Wagner and Jim Cassidy.

Others publicly critical of the public handling of the case who attended last month's council meeting – attorney George Farneth and Billie Michener – are also running for council as challengers against incumbents this year.

Mr. Farneth has reportedly sent a letter to Mr. Perich, formally requesting more details (including the parties involved) about the possible lawsuit. He contends it is the public's right to know about the case if it is going to have a negative impact on the borough's financial health.

About two years ago, the borough suffered a financial setback when it had to settle out of court regarding the untimely death in 2002 of an Altoona man who was being subdued by borough police at a private party being held at the volunteer fire hall. The out-of-court settlement reportedly cost $850,000 that was paid by an insurance carrier. That settlement has put the borough in a more disadvantaged position regarding liability insurance coverage.

Mr. Obeldobel has criticized Mr. Cornelius for publicly mentioning the possible lawsuit at the council meeting in February.

“The more he says things like that, the more it's going to hurt the borough if this does go to the next level [state court],” Mr. Obeldobel said.

The matter is still pending out of court through the state Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). While the complaint is being reviewed by the EEOC to see if the charges are valid for court, no public information on the case can be revealed, according to some legal experts.

“I just hope that by them claiming this will cripple the borough financially, they aren't using this as a scare tactic for putting pressure on the individual to drop the suit,” Mr. Obeldobel said.


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