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Mayor denies intimidating cops

Tom Newcomer apologizes for any discomfort he may have caused to any residents, the council and police department

Tom Newcomer apologizes for any discomfort he may have caused to any residents, the council and police department

July 25, 2002|by STACEY DANZUSO

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Mayor Tom Newcomer publicly expressed his regrets Tuesday that an exchange he had with three borough police officers about his disappointment with labor negotiations escalated to a charge with the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board.

The Chambersburg Police Officers Association filed an unfair labor practice charge against the borough this month accusing Newcomer of cursing at and berating the officers in a closed-door meeting after the union decided to move into arbitration.

It also accused him of interfering with contract negotiations and trying to intimidate them.

"I apologize to the citizens of Chambersburg, town council and the police department for any discomfort I may have caused. There was never any malice intended or thoughts of fear or intimidation," Newcomer said during Tuesday's borough council meeting.

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As mayor, Newcomer oversees the police department. He is also a member of the negotiating committee.

Newcomer said the exchange occurred after the second negotiation meeting when union representatives said they wanted to move to binding arbitration before the borough finished presenting its position.

He said he was "dumbfounded" and was "extremely disappointed" with the request because the arbitration process with the borough's firefighters, which has still not been settled, has already cost $27,000.

"I had absolutely no idea this was coming since I clearly understood, from my private discussion with them, that the union also wanted to settle without going to arbitration," Newcomer said.

According to the charge, Newcomer ordered Patrol Officer First Class Walter Bietsch, Sgt. John Phillipy and Cpl. Michael Rosenberry into his office.

"Did I say the wrong things in expressing disappointment? Probably yes, but at no time did I ever think that I was casting fear or intimidation upon them, and I personally take exception that I used the words or verbiage that they accused me of using," Newcomer said.

However, according to the charge, the officers saw Newcomer's actions as "an attempt by the borough to coerce the association into withdrawing its demand for arbitration and to coerce acceptance of the borough's bargaining position and to discourage membership in a labor organization."

Newcomer said he now understands that the union is still interested in negotiating, while also pursuing arbitration.

The police officers' contract expires at the end of the year, and by law they are forbidden from striking.

Police Chief Michael DeFrank said Wednesday that the department is taking the incident in stride.

"I can't say that to the person there has been no effect. For the most part, the department as a whole has been acting just as professional, just as diligently, as before the mayor called them in and berated them," DeFrank said. "They are acting as consummate professionals, and that is certainly to the department's credit."

The Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board is still studying the charge to determine if the facts stated in it amount to an unfair labor action, said Jack Neurohr, an attorney with the board.

If they do, the labor board will issue a formal complaint and assign a conciliator to attempt to resolve the charge. If that doesn't work, a hearing will be held, he said.

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