Lawrence judge upholds police pact

NEW CASTLE, Pa. — A judge has rejected Union Township’s argument that a six-year police contract extension passed in November 2005 was an outgoing supervisor’s attempt to prevent the new board from having any say on the police department.

In a decision filed Tuesday, Judge John Hodge of Lawrence County Common Pleas Court upheld the extension. But he threw out a Dec. 20 addendum because it is not included in township meeting minutes.

Township Solicitor Gabriel Cilli said the township will abide by the ruling, but he plans to request a clarification and reconsideration of some issues.

Former Supervisor Steve Galizia, who was liaison to the police department before leaving office at the end of 2005, said, “[Supervisor Pat] Angiolelli and I have always contended that this is a fair and equal contract between both parties.”

He added that the wages and benefits in the contract “in most cases are less than other municipalities.”

Over the six years of the extension, the police chief will receive $12,000 in raises on a $36,000 base salary and patrol officers $4.15 an hour on a base wage of $14.10. The township has two full-time police officers.

Galizia said he believes the dispute over the contract   really over whether the township has the power to make a regional department with other communities. He said today that township Supervisor Clair Damon had “every intent to regionalize the police department.”

The court decision means the department will remain “intact” through 2012, he said.

Damon said in response today that he believes Union Township “missed the boat” under a previous board of supervisors several years ago by not taking part in a state-funded feasibility study on regionalization with Mahoning and Pulaski townships.

But he added that though he is curious about the potential of regionalization, he hasn’t been “pushing” for it.

Damon defeated Galizia for the supervisor’s seat in the November 2005 election. Just afterward, Galizia and Angiolelli voted for the contract extension, while Supervisor Kevin Guinaugh opposed it.

Once Damon took office, he and Guinaugh declared that contract void, claiming it was an illegal “midnight contract” that was intended to prevent the incoming board from having any say over police contracts. However, the judge stated his review of precedents convinced him the contract was not an “impermissible attempt to unduly bind the successor board of supervisors.”

The addendum that was overturned prevents a full-time officer from being reduced to part-time status during the terms of the contract.

The court’s rejection of the addendum disposes of a grievance filed by township police officer Michael Mrozek, who challenged the new board’s decision to reduce him to part-time for several months because of financial problems.

Mrozek was later returned to full-time status when the township’s financial picture improved.

The addendum also forbade the township from moving officers permanently assigned to one shift to another without approval of the officer and the union. It also contained changes in some pension provisions.

But the judge’s decision leaves untouched a provision in the

extension aimed at preventing regionalization of the department.

It requires the township to pay full wages until age 65 to any full-time police officer who is laid off before reaching that age.

Judge Hodge noted that in upholding the extension, he was “not expressing an opinion one way or another relative to the prudence of the extension agreement and the terms set forth therein.”

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