Residents question Monroeville council on manager, police chief issues

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Monroeville residents heckled and harangued council Tuesday night over everything from "housekeeping bills" to the recent demotion of the municipality's police chief and the resignation of its manager.

And at the end of the four-hour meeting, Mayor Gregory Erosenko vetoed the salary council set for the interim manager.

Residents are still shaken after a turbulent few weeks in the municipality.

A majority of council members accepted last Thursday the resignation of manager Jeffrey Silka. Earlier last month, a bloc of council members gave Mr. Silka an ultimatum to remove police Chief Doug Cole or lose his job as manager, according to a letter sent from Mr. Silka to municipal solicitor Bruce Dice.

After Mr. Silka's resignation, council appointed municipal secretary Lynette McKinney to hold the post of interim manager. Two days after she was appointed, she announced former Chief Cole's removal "without cause" from the top of the department. He has been demoted to sergeant.

Councilwoman Diane Allison claimed the resignation and the ouster of the police chief was the culmination of months of frustration over the handling of various internal issues. Mr. Erosenko has repeatedly characterized the demotion as "political."

The Tuesday night crowd, which spilled into the lobby of the municipal building, had plenty of questions and comments regarding an ordinance to restore the municipal manager as the collector of all non-real estate taxes. The move would repeal a former ordinance and eliminate one managerial position in the tax department, a savings to the municipality, and Councilwoman Lois Drumheller said the elected tax collector would still continue to do the job he was elected to do.

Councilman Steve Duncan, who participated in the meeting by phone, said the manager should manage the municipality and the tax collector should collect taxes. The ordinance failed, 4-3, with Ms. Allison, Ms. Drumheller and Bernhard Erb voting yes.

Council unanimously approved what Mr. Dice termed a "housekeeping ordinance" to "amend and restate the rules and regulations of the Civil Service Commission" to bring them in line with state requirements. But because this had to do with the police department, council members and residents had quite a few questions regarding the change, which eliminates the requirement for psychological exams for promotions.

A steady stream of residents stepped to the podium to address council during the public comment portion of the meeting and encouraged council to reinstate the police chief.

Expletives were uttered and voices were raised. Others lumbered to the front of the room, saying they planned to stay home but felt it was necessary to call on council members to reinstate the chief, replace the interim manager or resign their council seats. Monroeville resident Lou Smith handed four letters to Mr. Erosenko and asked him to distribute them to Mr. Erb, Ms. Allison, Ms. Drumheller and Clarence Ramsey.

"You wanna resign?" Mr. Smith asked. "There's your letter. Put your signature on it."

No one resigned.

Others demanded an explanation for Sgt. Cole's demotion, and Ms. Allison and Ms. Drumheller said that while the matter is being investigated, there are laws that prevent council from discussing the matter publicly. Ms. Allison said the police chief's demotion was not politically motivated.

"There's a situation going on here," she said, noting that the information will be shared with residents as soon as it's legally feasible.

"You have to think: There has to be more to this," she said.

Some suggested council change the municipality's home rule charter to require five votes to remove the manager, and others questioned why the municipality has yet to begin advertising the open municipal manager job.

At the end of the meeting, Mr. Erosenko vetoed the $86,808 salary for the interim manager, saying that salary, when added to the $67,500 and seven months of benefits to be paid to Mr. Silka as part of his severance package "exceeds the approved salary and benefits package for the manager position for fiscal year 2013."

Mr. Dice said council has the power under the home rule charter to reconsider the mayor's veto within the next 10 days.

There is one thing council can agree on, however: burgers and booze: Council members voted unanimously to OK the transfer of a liquor license for Winghart's Burger & Whiskey Bar, to be located in the former Dingbat's restaurant in Monroeville Mall.

neigh_east

Annie Siebert: asiebert@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1613. Twitter: @AnnieSiebert.


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