Honesdale handles complaints head-on

HONESDALE, PA — In a the-buck-stops-here spirit, Honesdale Borough Council openly addressed complaints from the public, borough officials and religious institutions at its February 11 meeting. Solutions, advice and information were doled out along with admissions of past council inefficiencies.

The first instance of local government transparency came with DPW Director Rich Doney’s response to a social media firestorm of criticism regarding the borough’s handling of snow removal from last week’s storm. Citing his 26 years on the job, Doney said he and his crew of three full-timers and two part-timers had worked many overtime hours to clear, sand, and cinder borough roads. After pointing out that Main and Church Streets are state highways maintained by PennDOT, he said borough streets are divided up among his crew, with each man—himself included—responsible for certain streets, sidewalks, parking lots and borough office access.

Normally, the borough begins hauling snow away from the commercial district as soon as streets have been cleared and treated, said Doney. But the icy finish to last week’s storm made prolonged treatment with sand and cinders necessary, delaying the hauling process. Borough secretary-manager Judy Poltanis added that, whenever a storm produces 36 inches or more of snow, private haulers are contracted for its removal.

Doney said false allegations have been leveled against specific council members on social media. Explaining that the borough’s current snow removal plan was developed in conjunction with the streets committee, and with the full knowledge and consent of its chair, Bill Canfield (who was not present at the meeting), Doney said he takes full responsibility for the condition of borough streets. “Please direct all questions, complaints and requests for service to me,” said Doney. His contact information is available on the borough’s website at www.honesdaleborough.com/departments-and-services/public-works/. Safety committee chair Bob Jennings introduced a resolution to begin an investigation into a charge of police corruption. Poltanis interjected, saying that a directive to that effect had been issued at last month’s meeting. That directive was sparked by receipt on January 9 of an undated and unsigned letter addressed to the council and Mayor Sarah Canfield, postmarked Lehigh Valley. 

The anonymous writer alleged that a traffic accident in June on Terrace Street, to which borough police responded, was deliberately mishandled because the driver is the son of a police officer. The writer said tickets were issued, but that blood alcohol tests were not submitted. Although the council’s stated policy has been to ignore anonymous letters, President Mike Augello directed Police Chief Rick Southerton to begin an investigation into the alleged incident. Southerton has yet to respond with either a formal report or a verbal progress update to the council, the Safety Committee or the mayor.

That led the council to address another complaint, this one by Southerton, who has long contended that his hands are tied when it comes to disciplining his own officers. In a moment of candor, Augello admitted that Southerton’s complaint is not without validity. Confusion about disciplining of officers resulted in an expensive mediation dispute settlement brought by an officer who Southerton suspended, the council later terminated,and who was subsequently reinstated with more than a year’s back pay by dispute resolution order.

To prevent more such incidents, the council retained a law firm specializing in labor law and collective bargaining negotiations. Eckert, Seamans, Cherin & Mellott, LLC, a national law firm with more than 250 attorneys, acts on the borough’s behalf in labor disputes, and will henceforth advise both Southerton and the council regarding police disciplinary criteria and procedures.

 

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