Complaint against Monroeville mayor boosts tensions
February 25, 2013 5:00 AM
Sen. Hillary Clinton listens as Monroeville mayor and Army veteran Gregory Erosenko talks to a crowd in 2008 at Hopewell High School.
By Annie Siebert Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Details of a harassment complaint against Monroeville Mayor Greg Erosenko emerged last week, adding another layer of dysfunction to the municipality, which is still reeling from the sudden resignation of its municipal manager and demotion of its police chief.
Mr. Erosenko said last week that he does not speak to Lynette McKinney, the municipal secretary now serving as the interim manager, because of a complaint she filed last year alleging he repeatedly threatened and harassed her.
And although the municipality's employee handbook states that all complaints alleging workplace violence must be investigated by the police department, a police probe never happened. Meanwhile, four of the municipality's seven council members discussed the complaint with the mayor, solicitor and manager at a restaurant on Northern Pike in the municipality, according to one of the councilmen present at that meeting. Because a council quorum was present, that group may have violated the state's Sunshine Act.
In a July memo from Ms. McKinney to then-municipal manager Jeff Silka obtained by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Ms. McKinney said there were "confrontations and statements" during her first stint as interim manager. She now holds that job for the second time in as many years; she managed the municipality from January 2012, when manager Tim Little resigned, until June, when Mr. Silka accepted the job.
In the memo, Ms. McKinney said Mr. Erosenko told her, among other things, that she "better have an explanation or I'm going to take your head off" and to "fly below the radar or you may not have a job at the end of this." She said the threats typically occurred when she was alone in her office.
"He has on occasion swung open the door and entered upset, and some of these confrontations start out as a lecture and some start out as him screaming," she wrote. "All are always followed by the statement 'because we are friends.' "
She added in the memo that she is "truly worried that [her] career with the Municipality of Monroeville will be prematurely ended based upon what Mayor Erosenko said."
Mr. Erosenko said last week he wouldn't comment.
"I'm not going to add to the circus," he said. "When it all comes out ... things will be clear.
"When all of this ends up in court eventually, I think the truth will come out."
Former police Chief Doug Cole said he was made aware of the complaint and then was instructed not to investigate it but would not comment further. Now-Sgt. Cole was demoted "without cause" earlier this month by Ms. McKinney, just two days after she stepped into the interim manager's role. Mr. Silka resigned last month amid pressure from a bloc of council members to remove Sgt. Cole as police chief.
Acting Chief Steven Pascarella said the case isn't open in the department now and he doesn't know why it wasn't investigated.
A nondisclosure agreement was part of Mr. Silka's severance package, according to Ms. McKinney, and Mr. Silka has not returned calls seeking comment on the harassment complaint.
Ms. McKinney said in an interview last week that Mr. Silka stalled after she submitted the complaint. After telling her he'd called the police chief off the investigation, Ms. McKinney said, Mr. Silka suggested moving her office away from Mr. Erosenko's.
"I'm the victim and you're moving me?" she said.
She said Mr. Silka "rectified the situation" by moving Mr. Erosenko away from her office, first to a temporary location in August, then to a permanent office in October.
Mr. Erosenko said this week the move had nothing to do with Ms. McKinney's complaints, but in a September letter to Mr. Silka obtained by the Post-Gazette, Mr. Erosenko wrote that he believed that "the move of offices will help to defuse the conflicts between Lynette and me."
"I truly feel that I am the victim here concerning this matter," he wrote.
Ms. McKinney said she feels she didn't receive "a fair investigation" regarding her complaints. She said she now communicates municipal business to Mr. Erosenko exclusively by email and that the only time they see each other in person is when they sit side-by-side during council meetings.
After Mr. Silka emailed Ms. McKinney's complaint to council members, Councilwomen Lois Drumheller and Diane Allison questioned Mr. Silka's response to the complaint and how the mayor came to be aware of the allegations against him, according to emails between Ms. Allison, Ms. Drumheller and Mr. Silka obtained by the Post-Gazette.
Mr. Silka wrote in an email to Ms. Allison that he stopped the investigation because the complaint does not allege workplace violence as defined in the handbook.
Mr. Silka added that the mayor discussed the complaint with him as well as Councilmen Jim Johns, Nick Gresock and Steve Duncan and municipal solicitor Bruce Dice.
Ms. Drumheller responded in an email that Councilman Clarence Ramsey was also present for that discussion, which she said was held at the Gateway Grill.
"That, in my opinion, violates the Sunshine Law ... because this kind of discussion needs to take place INSIDE an executive session, not in an open place of business," she wrote.
Ms. Drumheller wrote that the contents of Ms. McKinney's memo detailing the alleged harassment show "hateful behavior, abnormal behavior falling into a hostile environment" and said it would be the manager's responsibility to address those issues.
Mr. Ramsey confirmed last week that he was one of four councilmen present when the complaint was being discussed at the Gateway Grill last summer. He said Councilmen Johns, Gresock and Duncan were discussing the matter with Mr. Erosenko, Mr. Silka and Mr. Dice when he arrived. Mr. Johns, Mr. Gresock and Mr. Duncan said last week that the matter was not discussed at the restaurant, and Mr. Erosenko said he had no memory of that discussion.
Mr. Dice said he did not hear any discussion among council members at the Gateway Grill about Ms. McKinney's complaint.
"That doesn't mean it was or wasn't said," Mr. Dice said.
"I've been to the Gateway Grill with those particular people 10 or 15 times since then," he added. "I didn't hear it. That doesn't mean it didn't happen."
Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel with the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association, said that while mealtime meetings among elected officials aren't uncommon, they need to be careful to avoid the appearance of impropriety even if they're not discussing municipal business, particularly when a quorum of council members is in a room together.
"It happens more often than it should that quorums meet on an informal basis," Ms. Melewsky said. "One of the biggest problems with the Sunshine Act is that agencies ignore it."