By John E. Usalis
Republican & Herald
MAHANOY PLANE, Pa. — Gilberton Borough Council voted to begin the process to abolish its police department during Thursday's meeting.
The move is exactly one week after the settlement agreement was signed between the borough and former police Chief Mark Kessler, who was the only police officer on the force at the time, though he had been suspended since July 31. The agreement states that Kessler is "separated from his employment and voluntarily retired."
Since the suspension of Kessler, the Pennsylvania State Police has provided police enforcement.
Kessler's name and any other related topic was not referred to during the meeting. The subject about abolishing the police department was raised by Mayor Mary Lou Hannon,
"I would like to recommend that we abolish our police department," Hannon said to the council. "That would be by ordinance."
Borough solicitor Karen Domalakes investigated the idea about how to disband a police force.
"You actually do have an ordinance establishing the police force," Domalakes said. "You would have to abolish the department by another ordinance. I don't think you have to abolish it. You can let lie for as long as you would like to. If you do abolish it, other than obviously advertising the ordinance to rescind the original ordinance, there are other steps in the process."
A major step is to inform the county district attorney and state police about the borough's intentions.
"We need to notify the district attorney and the state police that we're doing that, not just for coverage," Domalakes said. "We would tell them that they have the opportunity to come in and examine the police files, the computer, any evidence locker that we would have, to see if there is any followup that they would want to do."
Domalakes said that once the ordinance is passed, a notice would be forwarded to the Fraternal Order of Police for its information.
"Lastly, we would do an inventory of the property that the police force would have owned," Domalakes said. "As for putting it up for sale, any property over $1,000 would have to be advertised."
She said that the $1,000 limit would not be a factor if the property, such as the police car, was sold to another municipality, and if so, payments over time could be negotiated.
"I think you would want to have a very good contract in accepting payments because that asset will be decreasing in value," Domalakes said. "Municipalities are good for their payments."
Hannon suggested that the police car be sold for $5,000, noting that interest in the vehicle has come from Frackville and Girardville.
Councilman Lloyd George asked if abolishing the police department will save the borough money, or would it be better just to leave the department as is, but with no officers. Domalakes speculated that the borough would save on insurance coverage, such as with workers compensation, errors and omissions, and liability.
"Right now I think that it's the best thing we can do," Hannon said.
Council President Daniel Malloy asked for a motion to abolish the department, with the motion made by Susan Schmerfeld and seconded by Eric Boxer. The vote was unanimous to advertise the ordinance.
The council also approved Hannon's recommendation to allow negotiations to sell the police car, with Hannon given permission to speak with interested municipalities.
Domalakes said if a deal is reached, it could be voted on at the March meeting. The other municipality agreeing to the sale would also have its borough council approve the transaction.
Hannon said that she will conduct an inventory of police items, such as radios and a bulletproof vest.
Copyright 2014 the Republican & Herald
McClatchy-Tribune News Service