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Official upset with mayor's gag order

November 26, 2002|by STACEY DANZUSO

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - A Chambersburg councilwoman hopes she will get answers to some of her questions about the borough's police department at tonight's council meeting, despite the fact the mayor ordered the police chief not to attend an executive session.

"Mayor (Tom) Newcomer has forbidden the chief to speak to council at any time," Sharon Bigler said. "How can I make sound decisions for the community?"

To make her point, Bigler stood outside of the Chambersburg Police station on South Second Street for four hours Saturday morning holding a 4-foot by 4-foot sign that said: "Mayor Newcomer! Lift your gag order!"

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"People beeped and waved and I got a few thumbs up," Bigler said. "We all know what the mayor is doing is not the right thing."

As mayor, Newcomer oversees the police department, which is engaged in arbitration with the borough. The officers' contracts expire at the end of the year.

Police Chief Michael DeFrank said he has not been given a reason for the order, and it was his understanding Council President Bill McLaughlin had requested that the police and fire chiefs and the head of the recreation department attend Tuesday's meeting while the council discusses the 2003 budget.

Bigler also requested his presence at a closed executive session to discuss discrepancies in a recent report on police overtime.

"He has forbidden me to come to Tuesday evening's executive session meeting. Currently he hasn't decided if he will allow me to come to the regular council meeting," DeFrank said Monday.

DeFrank said he has never before been told not to attend a meeting.

When asked if the order was hindering his ability to do his job, DeFrank said he was not allowed to answer the question.

Newcomer said he told DeFrank not to attend the executive session because the Chambersburg Police Officers Association is in arbitration proceedings for a new contract, and overtime is an issue.

"I feel that is an issue that needs to be handled between the committee with the solicitor and the negotiating team," Newcomer said.

Bigler has accused the mayor of abusing his power and attempting to "control and intimidate" the police department.

She said information provided to the council for decision-making purposes is "fraught with inconsistencies."

Bigler said she has the support of some council members, while others say they're not sure what is going on.

"I'm not sure exactly what happened there," Councilman Ken Gill said. "From what I understand the chief will attend the meeting along with several other department heads."

Gill said he didn't understand why any meeting with the chief would be slated for an executive session but that he hoped the chief will be present tonight for the general session to discuss budget matters.

In general, Gill said he hopes the council resumes the practice of meeting with each department head at one meeting throughout the year to learn more about what is going on.

"My feeling is I don't think we spend enough time discussing with any department how they operate," Gill sad.

The council will meet at 7 p.m. at Chambersburg Borough Hall.

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