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HONESDALE, PA — It became apparent at the November 14 Honesdale Borough Council meeting that Mayor Melody A. Robinson has stepped into the breach between the council and its chief of police, Rick Southerton. As official police liaison, it is lawful that she does so and represents a marked transition from her predominantly ceremonial duties during her first 10 months in office.
During the citizen input segment, Rosina Cordaro and Mike Jones both asked council why Southerton no longer has responsibility for scheduling officer duty rosters, with Jones noting that retired FBI agent Southerton is more than qualified to run the borough police department.
Robinson has assumed responsibility for scheduling officer duty rosters. She said in private remarks after the meeting that it was done with Southerton’s knowledge and consent. Chief among the duties of her office, as specified by Section 10A of the Pennsylvania State Code, is “preserving order in the borough.” That same code entitles her to devise police-officer duty rosters and to sign legal agreements on behalf of the police department and borough. She said that, when she offered to assume scheduling duty for the chief, Southerton agreed, happy to spend more shifts as one of only three full-time working officers.
Robinson also reported that Southerton was reluctant to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) pursuant to the Safe Schools Act. The MOU is essentially an agreement among Wayne Highlands Middle and High Schools, the Wayne County District Attorney’s office, the Honesdale Borough Police Department, the Pennsylvania State Police and the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office. It states that the law enforcement agencies named will respond to requests for assistance regarding incidents on school property or in school conveyances, such as buses or driver training cars.
Robinson said Southerton’s objection to signing the agreement was based on “limited discretion.” But she did not elaborate on exactly what that meant.
Asked by phone on November 15 to explain his position, Southerton, who has not been present at the last three council meetings, said his remarks reflected concern about the school’s discretion in referring incidents to borough police. Per Southerton, the borough police department is designated as the primary law enforcement agency for the middle and high schools. The school’s chief of security, Joseph LoBasso, former borough chief of police, has authority to arrest for misdemeanors only. Any crime exceeding misdemeanor status must be referred to borough police for appropriate handling.
Southerton is not convinced this has been done consistently. “My department has been accused of failing to handle appropriately incidents of which it was not even aware,” said Southerton. “How can we respond to something we don’t even know about?”
Southerton said his refusal to sign the MOU is a form of passive protest and will not prevent borough police from responding to calls for assistance from the school.
Robinson has indicated her willingness to sign the MOU, if the council directs her to do so. Councilman Jeremy Ebert said the borough has routinely signed it in the past. But Southerton says it has been presented to the borough for signature only four times, and signed only once by an acting police chief; Southerton has refused to sign it for the past three years.
LoBasso and Wayne Highlands School District Superintendent Gregory Frigoletto were unavailable for comment prior to press time.