Monroeville officials discuss chief's ouster

Councilwoman says frustration the cause

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A Monroeville councilwoman Saturday depicted the municipal manager's resignation and the police chief's ouster last week as the culmination of months of frustration over how the two officials handled various internal issues.

Former manager Jeffrey Silka was supposed to investigate a federal complaint that was filed in August against Monroeville, UPMC and a former police chief alleging a breach of privacy law, but he did not follow through, Councilwoman Diane Allison claimed.

"There was zero done on this," said Ms. Allison, who is also deputy mayor and the wife of a Monroeville police officer.

Similarly, she said, at least three council members brought to Mr. Silka's attention complaints about issues pertaining to the department and former police chief K. Douglas "Doug" Cole.

"Basically we were told that none of these were looked into," she said. Ms. Allison declined to go into detail about the complaints.

At the start of a turbulent 48 hours, Mr. Silka resigned Wednesday under pressure. He was replaced on an interim basis by Lynette C. McKinney.


Email exchanges

• Oct. 31, 2012: Email from Jeffrey Silka

• Nov. 29, 2012: Email from Jeffrey Silka to Diane Allison


Ms. McKinney late Friday abruptly announced former Chief Cole's removal "without cause" from the top of the 48-member department. He has been demoted to sergeant, his last civil service rank.

"I am just changing the direction with our police department and our public safety sector in our municipality. I chose to go a different way," Ms. McKinney said. "There are some concerns that have been brought to my attention. There are various issues that have occurred in our police department that are going to require a little bit of checking into."

Ms. McKinney declined to provide details.

"I'm not aware of anything else that wasn't addressed by the manager previously," beyond the privacy complaint, Sgt. Cole said.

Asked if he planned to fight the demotion, Sgt. Cole, who has a contract with the municipality, said, "I'm still looking at my options."

Mr. Silka, who will receive a $67,592 severance package, declined comment.

In a Jan. 28 letter to Monroeville solicitor Bruce Dice, Mr. Silka said a bloc of council members -- Ms. Allison, Lois Drumheller and Clarence Ramsey -- met with him Jan. 17. He claimed that Ms. Allison said the majority of council had no confidence in the chief and issued an ultimatum to dump the chief or be removed himself.

Mr. Silka refused to comply and indicated that he believed the alleged ultimatum violated Monroeville's home rule charter.

Ms. Allison said she never issued an ultimatum to Mr. Silka demanding the removal of the chief.

"That's inaccurate. He was told to do his job. Nobody said what that was," Ms. Allison said. "We said you have many options and we never said what. He was never given a directive or a demand."

Ms. Allison said she told Mr. Silka, "If you do not do your job, we will need to find someone else who can do that job."

Acting Chief Steven Pascarella, a 25-year department veteran who rose to assistant chief from lieutenant about 18 months ago, said he did not know what prompted Ms. McKinney's decision to remove Sgt. Cole.

Chief Pascarella's promotion is temporary while a search is conducted for a full-time chief that could include both internal and external candidates.

While Chief Pascarella said the main goal during his appointment is to keep department operations running smoothly, there are situations he wants to resolve.

"Basically, I'm there to run the department and keep things moving for the time being. However, there are issues that I feel need to be addressed immediately for the safety and protection of our officers and the public, and I'm going to make those changes when those options become available," Chief Pascarella said.

He would not elaborate.

Last year friction arose within the department over a federal complaint Chief Pascarella filed with an arm of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Chief Pascarella accused the municipality, UPMC and former Monroeville police Chief George Polnar, head of security for UPMC East, of violating the federal privacy law that governs health information.

The complaint claimed that information about ambulance dispatches was being sent not only to paramedics but also to Mr. Polnar, although he was not an active first responder, and was then forwarded by Mr. Polnar to a third party.

Former Chief Cole supervised the local 911 center and ultimately was responsible for who was cleared to receive ambulance dispatch information. A limited number of people had the ability to have mobile devices set up to receive dispatch information.

"That narrows it down to a few, and Doug is on that list," Ms. Allison said.

In October Mr. Dice told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette there was no violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA. UPMC declined comment.

On Oct. 31, Mr. Silka notified council and the mayor via email that he had begun an investigation.

Chief Pascarella said Saturday there is an "open" federal inquiry.

neigh_east

Jonathan D. Silver: jsilver@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1962.


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