Springdale Borough, PA Officials Divided Over Duties of New Police Chief

From The Tribune-Review by Brian C. Rittmeyer, February 19, 2014

Springdale Councilman Gene Polsinelli compared the relationship between council and the new police chief to a marriage.

Nine months after Police Chief Julio Medeiros III was hired, and about four months since he took an oath of office, the partners are still “getting to know one another,” Polsinelli said.

Springdale Police Chief Julio F. Medeiros III defends his decisions to council members during a meeting at the Springdale Borough Building on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014. — Erica Dietz  |  Valley News Dispatch

Springdale Police Chief Julio F. Medeiros III defends his decisions to council members during a meeting at the Springdale Borough Building on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014.

Polsinelli offered the comparison Tuesday after residents again questioned council members about the apparent acrimony among and between them, Mayor Ken Lloyd and Medeiros that last week led a resident to compare them to arguing children.

Resident Jeff Hartz said he felt council members were badgering the chief, whom he praised for composure under fire.

“I’m concerned why you’re not working with this man,” Hartz said.

“He’s the most professional guy we ever had in Springdale,” he said. “I feel comfortable with this man being our police chief.”

Resident Frank DePoli said he was embarrassed by what he saw.

“You guys need to calm down and work with him,” he said. “You guys need to start working together. How about tomorrow?”

Polsinelli said things will smooth out once Medeiros proves himself.

“It’s going to take a little while for the chief to gain all our confidence,” Polsinelli said. “He’s a total stranger to us. We’re getting to know him.”

But Councilman Jason Fry disagreed, saying all involved — council, mayor and Medeiros — need to sit down face-to-face and settle the disputes.

“It needs to be remedied,” he said.

Just what Medeiros is supposed to be doing as police chief is part of the problem. Although he has a contract — a five-year deal paying $78,000 in the first year — he does not have a job description spelling out his duties.

Council has said the job was advertised as a “working chief of police,” meaning he would count as an officer. Lloyd has said that the chief is primarily an administrator and that his time and efforts are needed to develop much-needed policies and procedures for the department.

Medeiros has said he would not have taken the job if it meant being a patrol officer with a chief’s title.

The job of getting the department to where it needs to be is “immense,” he said. “This isn’t something you whip together.”

While Medeiros had previously given council a copy of his own job description, the borough has been drafting its own. The borough’s version of Medeiros’ job description is expected to be ready for approval in March, Fry said.

The hiring of two part-time officers revealed a few points of contention.

Medeiros wanted council to hire two officers, saying their backgrounds had already been checked. But Polsinelli said past practice was for council to interview candidates first, and then have background checks run on those they’re interested in hiring.

Polsinelli said he would not hire anyone the council had not met or interviewed.

Medeiros said he was told by council President David Finley to get the officers on board; Finley did not attend the meeting.

Council expressed concern about Medeiros delegating to other officers work they expect him to be doing, especially when those officers are part-timers. Councilman John Molnar said when officers are given other work, such as performing background checks, that means they’re in the office more than on the street.

Polsinelli said delegating duties works well in departments that have more than one officer on duty at a time.

“The people in town want to see their police patrolling,” Polsinelli said. “There’s not enough patrolling of the streets.”

That led to another debate between council and Lloyd over who controls the police department. Lloyd argued that under the borough code, it’s the mayor.

Lloyd participated in the meeting by telephone. He said he’d be back in two weeks after spending the winter in Florida, which he said he planned before mounting a last-minute write-in campaign for the mayor’s office.

Council members were visibly frustrated when Lloyd began reading from the state’s borough code and often interrupted him.

“We need to stop all this,” Lloyd said. “I am the supervisor of the police chief. He is not going to be treated like this.”

Council’s power over the police department is “very limited,” Lloyd said.

“We are going to interview whoever we want to interview, and we’re going to present them to you,” he said.

Fry said that under the borough code, Finley should have served as interim mayor in Lloyd’s absence.

But Solicitor Craig Alexander said Lloyd’s participation in meetings by telephone counts toward carrying out his duties as mayor.

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