Police Merger Talk Divides Chester Council
Borough Committee will make recommendations to the council by the end of May on police services.
The word “merger” hit the public forum regarding police service in Chester Borough at the meeting of Mayor and Council on March 20.
The result was a charged exchange of words amongst the council about the direction the Public Safety Committee was going and the scope of the committee’s mandate.
Recapping the meeting of the Public Safety Committee, council member Janet Hoven said the committee was in agreement after looking over the proposal they received from Chester Township for services, the committee needed to take a step back and review all of their options. To that end, Hoven said Mayor Robert Davis wanted to expand the committee to include some members of the community and gain more perspective on the issue. In the timeline Hoven reported, the committee would have many meeting between now and the end of May and then give their recommendations to the council for possible action.
“That would give us June and July to really speak to Chester Township or whoever we would be interested in working with,” Hoven said. “The decision needs to be made by August so we could have something on the ballot for November.”
Council member Tim Iversen took issue with talk of a merger happening in closed session.
“The topic in closed session was a merger. Why was it in closed session?” Iversen asked of the proposal sent over by Chester Township. “I don’t understand why it’s not a public document. Otherwise we are sliding into a negotiation we did not authorize.”
Davis admonished Iversen for taking on the topic in open session, saying the councilman was climbing on a soap box.
“You are trying to block this anyway you can,” Davis said. “Like it or not you are in the beginning stages of a contract negotiations.”
That characterization brought a chorus of disagreement from Hoven, Jennifer Napolitano and Gary Marschuetz.
“I disagree with that,” Hoven said. “We are not entering into contract negotiations. That is why we stepped back.”
Marschuetz said Hoven did a good job summarizing the timeline and felt it appropriate to move on.
“I would like to keep the conversation to what Janet stated. A timeline,” Marschuetz said.
Iversen said that the committee was exceeding their mandate by looking into mergers, a topic not authorized by the governing body.
“Shared service was the topic put before the committee. That is the process that was authorized. You were not authorized to expand the committee. It does not give you the power to look into mergers,” Iversen said. “The mayor did not ask if the council was interested in merging police services. That is an entirely different process.”
Chester Borough attorney Brian Mason said that the mayor has every right to assign topics for review without the council’s authorization.
“The mayor has the authority to make the appointment to advisory committees. He doesn’t have to get approval. He can put items in for review, but they have no authority other than advising,” Mason said. “It sounds like the committee is going to look at the various options, make a recommendation and then go to the governing body in order to make the decision.”
Hoven said that the committee was going to look at all options, but there was no expected outcome the group was working towards. When Iversen expressed his doubt on that, Hoven took umbrage.
“I am on the committee and I take offense to that,” Hoven said. “What we are trying to do is come up with options and give the public the ability to weigh in on it. And the best way is in a vote in November.”
Davis admonished Iversen for prolonging the discussion.
“The last thing I want to do in a council meeting is to do committee work. You are out of line. You are going too far with this,” Davis said. “We know that you’re opposed to this. That’s obvious.”
But Iversen did not let the discussion drop.
“And we know you want to make this happen,” Iversen said. “That’s obvious.”