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Borough, police union reach tentative agreement on contract

January 09, 2003|by STACEY DANZUSO

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Chambersburg Borough officials and police officers have reached agreement on a new contract, bringing to an end negotiations that began early last year.

Borough Council President Bill McLaughlin announced the four-year deal Wednesday, the day after the majority of the borough's 30 police officers voted to ratify the contract.

Borough Council will have to vote on the proposal at its meeting Tuesday before the contract can go into effect.

McLaughlin called the agreement "fair" for both the borough and the officers, but he declined to reveal further details about the contract until council has a chance to review it.

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"The attorneys still have a few hairs and infinitives to split," he said.

The proposed contract is the result of a six-hour meeting last month between McLaughlin, Councilmen Carl Helman and John Redding, Borough Manager Eric Oyer, Officer Walter Bietsch, Sgt. John Phillipy and Cpl. Michael Rosenberry.

Last spring the Police Officers Association announced it wanted to begin negotiating a new contract to replace the one that ended in December. In May, police representatives announced they wanted to continue negotiations while simultaneously pursuing arbitration.

That led to a confrontation between Mayor Tom Newcomer and three officers, prompting them to file a complaint with the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board claiming Newcomer swore at them and attempted to intimidate them.

All involved say a new, open relationship between council and the police department was forged during these negotiations.

"The association worked very hard to try to make this negotiation happen," Bietsch said. "I hope we have established a fresh new relationship with borough government."

Bietsch said at an emergency meeting of the association Tuesday night, the members almost unanimously voted in favor of the contract.

McLaughlin said he was confident council would support it.

Most of the contract was hammered out in a six-hour meeting Dec. 26, without attorneys, so everyone felt comfortable speaking his mind, McLaughlin said.

The only ground rule for the meeting was that all discussions would remain confidential, except for review by legal counsel.

"There were only a few issues that separated us. To have gone through with arbitration when we were so close to getting it solved would have had long-term negative complications for the relationship with the police department and the borough," McLaughlin said. "People felt everyone was dealing in good faith, rolled up their sleeves and got it done."

Police and borough representatives said Wednesday they think this is the beginning of a new relationship.

"There are new lines of communication open that have never been there before. We established a level of comfort and trust that may be beneficial in resolving other problems," McLaughlin said.

"There is no doubt we have established a new trust," Bietsch said. "This takes one less item out of our officers' minds. Most of our officers are extremely relieved."

Councilwoman Sharon Bigler said she was happy there was a positive resolution and hoped it would be indicative of a better future.

"Lines drawn before aren't there any more," she said. "There is an openness now. I feel this new trust."

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