North Huntingdon commissioners engage in shouting match

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North Huntingdon commissioners Thomas Krause and Dave Herold engaged in a shouting match Wednesday night over circumstances surrounding the April firing of police officer Bill Sombo.

During the shouting match, each man accused the other of discussing personnel matters in public.

The verbal confrontation occurred during the commissioners’ voting meeting, after several residents spoke in defense of Officer Sombo. Some suggested he be reinstated.

During the meeting, township solicitor Craig Alexander said when matters involve discipline, they can be discussed in executive session, but if a matter involves termination, and the employee wants it, the reasons must be discussed in public.

Resident Jill Cottrill was the first person to speak in Mr. Sombo’s defense.

“He is the most honest, fair (police officer), and he stands up for what is right, no matter what the consequences are,” she said.

Resident Mike Nolan said Mr. Sombo is a good neighbor who has done a lot for the community.

Brittney Lewis also spoke in defense of Mr. Sombo. She and her brother, the late Brandon Lewis, were young adult orphans when Brandon developed leukemia, and Mr. Sombo mounted an effort to do major repairs to their home so Brandon could come home.

Commissioners said no one can deny the good Mr. Sombo did in the community.

On Feb. 19, North Huntingdon police Chief Andrew Lisiecki spoke at the citizen’s podium about problems with an unnamed township police officer, whose false accusations led to Chief Lisiecki being subjected to three internal investigations, Mr. Lisiecki said.

He was found innocent in all three investigations, Mr. Lisiecki said in February.

"[The officer’s] continuing actions have led to a division among members of the department and have led to a serious morale problem that I alone cannot fix,” Mr. Lisiecki said in February. “I believe the only option is termination, due to the fact that he will not cease and desist in his conduct, as he attempts to be made chief of our police department, which is his one and only goal.”

Commissioner Tony Martino, who has been Mr. Sombo’s friend for 35 years, disagreed with the chief’s assessment of circumstances before the firing earlier this year.

“[Mr. Sombo's] been a good guy, great with the kids with the K-9s,” he said.

Earlier this year, Mr. Martino said Mr. Sombo got in trouble with the chief for speaking out publicly on issues.

Wednesday night, commissioners’ president Rich Gray said the township went to great lengths to hire two retired state troopers to investigate allegations against Chief Lisiecki, who was cleared of wrongdoing.

Other things came out in the investigation, Mr. Gray said, but did not elaborate.

Dave Herold said when he was interviewed for the investigation, the officers told him he could review the written statement. When it came out, Mr. Herold said it was far from truthful, “all one-sided, and designed to get Bill Sombo.”

Early in the meeting, Mr. Gray said he wished the public could be privy to details of the firing, more than anyone else on the board. He said since the firing, he has received emails thanking the commissioners for dealing with "a problem that's been around for awhile."

Toward the end of the meeting, Chief Lisiecki said if Mr. Martino wants to keep saying the chief was out to get Mr. Sombo, he needs to provide public evidence of that.

The matter of the firing is going into arbitration. As of Wednesday night, Mr. Gray said the commissioners had not been notified of a hearing date.

Near the end of the meeting, Mr. Herold and Mr. Krause apologized for shouting.

Anne Cloonan, freelance writer:

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