South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Margaret Smyka
Contributing Writer 

Boro residents question hiring of volunteer enforcement officer


August 28, 2012

The hiring of an assistant code enforcement officer in Mount Oliver once again drew the ire of council meeting attendees, this time for the man's record of driving with a suspended or revoked license, and outstanding balances on traffic and parking violations.

The offenses were revealed in an editorial in the Aug. 14 issue of The South Pittsburgh Reporter.

Other topics discussed during the three-hour Aug. 20 meeting included residents being charged by field permit holders to enter a borough park, and a new infield for Transverse Field. Councilman Corey McGough was absent.

On June 18, Melvin Pollard was hired for the new post of assistant code enforcement officer by a 4-2 vote, with council members Pat Malloy and George Farneth dissenting, and Councilwoman Christine Brendel absent. At that time, attendees complained the position was not advertised; there was no written job description; and of the hiring of a non-resident.

When they asked if Mr. Pollard had a driver's license, Council President Billie Michener assured them he did.

At last week's meeting, resident Frank Bernardini, who was the only other applicant for the assistant code enforcement position, questioned the borough's hiring practices, stating a background check should be have done on Mr. Pollard.

Mrs. Michener said that while she would not discuss a personnel issue, "I made a mistake and I apologize to the public."

She also said although he was sworn in by the mayor, Mr. Pollard is a volunteer.

When Mr. Bernardini would not heed her calls for order and continued to shout accusations, Mrs. Michener asked Sergeant Ed Besselman, who was sitting in for the chief, to remove him from the meeting.

Questioned by an attendee of how will Mr. Pollard do his job without a driver's license, Mrs. Michener said he can walk.

To a question of why ordinance officer Steve Wilharm needs an assistant, Mrs. Michener said he has a full-time job with emergency management, and he has been doing work with the borough for 15 years.

Mr. Wilharm has stated the position requires tracking down vacant property owners and others whose property is in violation, and which is very time-consuming.

Mrs. Michener said Mr. Wilharm wrote hundreds of citations after a big snowfall one winter, and no one paid a dime of the fines.

"He needs help. This is lost revenue," she said.

She said tax collector Dottie Smith recently collected $10,000 due the borough. While the means for collecting the past-due funds were listed in the borough manual, no one ever looked into it before she became president, she said.

She also said background checks are not conducted on volunteers. But Mr. Farneth said there are organizations which require checks on volunteers.

Mayor James Cassidy, a former council president, said that in the past, council was more interested in correcting problems that collecting fines.

Mrs. Michener said she is working on a program to deal with code violators, including a tracking system to determine if citations are paid -- all in an effort to collect revenue that is due the borough.

"These people are laughing at us," she said of the scofflaws.

To a question of whether the police can cite Mr. Pollard if he is seen driving, Sergeant Besselman said yes.

The meeting began with resident Bob Warnock telling council he received a $5,000 grant from the Pirates that he must spend by September, and which he is willing to use to repair Transverse Field.

It needs a new infield, and the dugouts need renovated. The funds can only be utilized for fields, dugouts, and concessions stands.

All the labor will be provided by volunteers, with the $5,000 used for materials.

Council thanked him for his efforts, and voted 6-0 to okay the project.

In the mayor's report, Mr. Cassidy said the police responded to 1,116 calls. The prior week, a felony pursuit and arrest that began in the borough and ended in the city included the ramming of several police cars. The suspect's insurance will be billed for the damage to the vehicles.

Mr. Cassidy also reported officers are engaging in park-and-walks in areas receiving numerous complaints about large groups of congregating juveniles.

Chief Frank Mosesso sent letters to residents reminding them of the curfew to be off borough streets for minors under age 18: 10 p.m. for ages 11 and younger; 10:30 p.m. for ages 12 and 13; 11 p.m. for ages 14 or older.

During the engineer's report, which is based on discussion at the agenda meeting, council voted, among other actions, to proceed with bidding the demolition of the Ormsby Park Bathhouse through SHACOG. Mrs. Michener said she would like to try for a water park at Ormsby in the future.

In the ordinance officer report, Mr. Wilharm said Mr. Pollard has seven "absentee bears" to pursue which might take a year as they involve absentee landlords and abandoned homes. He told attendees if they have complaints about a particular property, to let the borough know.

"Obviously, I'm not superman," he said of not knowing every spot or situation in which a citation is warranted.

In the public safety report, Councilman Darnell Sains said there were 14 narcotics arrests, one arrest by the DUI Task Force, 411 park-and-walks, 51 targeted patrols, and 17 nuisance properties.

He also reported four tickets were issued for parking on the wrong side of the street during team use of Transverse Field.

"We'll keep ticketing until they get the message," he said.

Mr. Sains also reported officers did a great job with the annual "Cruisin' on the Hilltop," car cruise on Aug. 18. There were no incidents.

He also complimented the road crew for the new lines for the car cruise which he said looked nice, and for putting up the stages. A couple of youngsters playing on the stage the next day will be reprimanded because the stage is private property.

In the finance report, Ms. Brendel said work on the 2013 budget would begin on Aug. 22.

In the code enforcement report for July 13 to Aug. 8, John Smith, Sr., reported there were 33 borough citations, nine legal notices, 17 violations, 30 rental inspections, and five occupancy permits.

Mr. Cassidy said he received complaints about residents charged $3 by field permit holders to enter the park.

Mr. Sains replied spectators are charged a fee by the league to watch a game.

Mr. Cassidy said his problem is that as it is a borough park, why can't they watch the game? Residents are also concerned they have no access to the area, even if they are merely passing through the park grounds.

The issue is charging a fee, and residents not being able to use the park at the same time.

Mrs. Michener said the issue needs addressed as she did not know a fee was being charged. She told Mr. Sains to put a halt to the practice of permit holders stopping residents who are walking near the field as it is a public park.

Residents should contact the police if it happens again.

In the economic development report, Mr. Farneth said the car cruise was very successful, attracting 42 vehicles. He also noticed an increase in volunteers the past three years.

In waste management, he said he and Mrs. Michener met to discuss a "sewage amnesty" program for residents having financial problems at this time.

In the question-and-answer session with residents' comments, a resident asked why cars parked on sidewalks are not cited. Sergeant Besselman said to call 911 if the vehicle is causing a hardship.

Mr. Cassidy said a yellow line by itself is not enough. There must also be a sign or the magistrate could dismiss the citation.

The resident said she sees officers on the street, so why not cite, especially when the borough is in need of revenue?

"They have their hands filled with issues," Mr. Sains said of why the police are not more vigilant on this matter.

Mrs. Michener said she has also seen officers drive by a trucks that are illegally parked outside of Rite Aid, and do nothing. She has also observed cars going the wrong way on one-way streets and officers do nothing.

"They're not doing their job when it is right in front of them," she said.

Mr. Cassidy and Mr. Sains will address the issue with the chief.

On another matter, a resident said he has never seen the area up to Rite Aid and three blocks back so quiet and clean, which elicited applause by the audience for the police.

He also said the new site of the Port Authority bus stop blocks the intersection of Brownsville and Walnut, and could create a safety issue.

In new business which concluded the public portion of the meeting, Mr. Farneth was appointed to the school board for reapportionment.

The council then went into a private executive discussion to discuss a new contract for the chief of police. A special public meeting has been called for 7 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 30 at the Borough Building to review and possibly vote on the contract.

The next regular council meeting will be on Sept. 17.


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