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Police study suggestion shot down

December 12, 2002|by STACEY DANZUSO

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - The Chambersburg Borough Council members rejected the idea of hiring a consultant to study the borough's police department, which has had its operations called into question recently.

Councilman Ken Gill proposed the study, saying that despite the current dispute between Mayor Tom Newcomer and Chief Michael DeFrank such a study is overdue since the last one was conducted in 1974.

Councilwoman Ruth Harbaugh questioned how the study would help the council since it has no authority over the department. The mayor oversees the operations of the department.

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"The problem now is the mayor and chief don't agree on the management of the police department. This is a legitimate way for council to insert itself into the problem," Gill said during a council meeting Tuesday.

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

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

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

Borough Manager Eric Oyer said the study could be as narrow or as broad as the council wants.

"I don't believe at this point we need a consulting group to come in and tell us the No. 1 problem," Councilman John Redding Jr. said. "We've been told what a great department we have until the last year."

"In light of the fact the mayor told the chief and department they can't talk about departmental issues, I don't know how we can conduct a study," said Councilman Allen Coffman, eliciting applause from the audience.

Gill said he has assurances from Newcomer that he would allow the department to cooperate in the study. Newcomer was not at Tuesday's meeting.

Council President Bill McLaughlin said that for the study to work, the mayor, chief and council would need to set the parameters together and make sure all parties can talk freely.

Councilman Carl Helman said given the "hysteria" surrounding the mayor and chief's relationship, now is the right time for an independent review.

Oyer said it would take several months for a study - estimated to cost about $35,000 - to begin.

In response to questions from the floor, McLaughlin said the council has no authority to remove the mayor as head of the police department.

"We have no option right now but to work through the current acrimony," he said.

The council defeated the motion to move ahead with a study 6-4.

Gill, Helman, McLaughlin and Councilman Allen Frantz supported the motion.

Redding, Coffman, Harbaugh, Councilman Robert Wareham, Councilman Scott Thomas and Councilwoman Sharon Bigler voted against the motion.

Earlier in the meeting, borough resident and business owner Sheldon Clopper read a statement about the situation.

"Get off your power trip and get on with trying to build our borough instead of breaking it up," Clopper said. He said the mayor and council need to move on.

"We need to bury the hatchet and start out fresh in the upcoming new year," he said.

Since Newcomer 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 in October when the mayor read an approved statement before council.

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