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Mayor blasted by residents over his police stance

November 27, 2002|by STACEY DANZUSO

By STACEY DANZUSO

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Several community members verbally attacked Chambersburg Mayor Tom Newcomer during Tuesday's Borough Council meeting over restrictions he has placed on the chief of police.

"Mr. Mayor, I believe you are wrong, and I hope the community will support the chief," Kathy Kopack said.

She said Chief Michael DeFrank has drastically improved the department in the 20 years he has served the borough, and his communication should not be limited.

Newcomer forbade DeFrank from attending an executive council session Tuesday night that will involve discussions about police department overtime, saying he should not comment on anything that might be involved in current contract negotiations.

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He also has limited the contact DeFrank can have with council members and the public.

"Not only mayor are you wrong, you need to resign," Paul Newcomer said at the meeting.

Dru Cramer said her opinion was the mayor wasn't being truthful, after the mayor would not comment on several issues she raised, referring to them as internal matters between him and the chief.

"What the chief and I discuss is between the chief and myself and are departmental matters that will not be discussed here," he said.

Cramer also questioned whether the public could freely talk to the chief in his office.

"There is a sign out when entering the Police Department that says, 'Official police business only,'" said Newcomer, who had no visible reaction to the harsh words from the public.

He said that for anything other than official police business, a citizen must contact him and he will set up a meeting.

As mayor, Newcomer oversees the operations of the police department. Since he took office in January, he has had a contentious relationship with the police force.

The Chambersburg Police Officers Association filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the state this summer accusing the mayor of interfering with labor negotiations and attempting to intimidate officers after the police negotiating team announced it wanted to move into arbitration.

The matter was resolved last month when the mayor read an approved statement before council.

Sgt. John Phillipy on Tuesday read his own statement praising DeFrank on behalf of the officers' association.

"His leadership is nothing but superb. Numerous departments have sought our help and tried to duplicate our success," he said. "Chief DeFrank has been instrumental in creating a reputable department."

Councilman John Redding Jr. asked the mayor to reconsider his decision, saying a professional should be available to answer the council's questions.

Late in the meeting, Newcomer had not addressed his request. Two-and-a-half hours into the meeting, the council had not begun discussions of the 2003 budget.

The situation has spiraled over the last couple of weeks since council member Sharon Bigler asked DeFrank to attend Tuesday's closed executive session to discuss what she perceived to be inconsistencies in a report about police department overtime, as well as some issues relating to the Crime Impact Team.

She learned last week that Newcomer forbade DeFrank from attending the session and protested outside of Borough Hall Saturday morning.

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