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HONESDALE, PA — Borough councilors unanimously passed a motion to execute a settlement agreement between police chief Richard Southerton and the Borough of Honesdale this week. The civil dispute has been ongoing since 2017 when Southerton first filed suit against the borough council at the time.
Southerton’s complaint centered around alleged First Amendment violations, negligent training and a failure to pay overtime. Southerton has since had to amend his complaint after the court dismissed the charge of First Amendment retaliation and also a charge of violation of the Pennsylvania Wage Payment and Collection Law.
The court dismissed the complaint regarding the violation of the Pennsylvania Wage Payment and Collection Law with prejudice. Charges related to overtime and the Fair Labor Standards Act, and also the right to petition government officials with fear of reprisal remained.
At its meeting in April, the current borough council discussed representation at the hearing on those charges. The details of the settlement were not made public at Monday’s meeting.
Regarding the star-and-cross structure atop Irving Cliff, council president Michael Augello made some remarks about a recent Supreme Court ruling that a WWI memorial “peace cross” on public property in Bladensburg, MD is constitutional. Augello was wary to draw any parallels between the decision and the borough’s own star-cross controversy, calling Bladensburg “a very specific court ruling on a very specific situation with a very specific structure.”
Augello said that from his understanding, the Supreme Court did not answer the more general question about religious symbols on public property, he also asked attorney Michael Lehutsky to read the report and offer his own insight. Lehutsky wrote a letter to the council saying that the Supreme Court ruling “falls significantly short” of resolving the issue for Honesdale.
“It appears that confusion is likely to continue when it comes to analyzing Establishment Clause cases,” he wrote.
In ambulance news, emergency management coordinator Stanton Pratt reported to the council that Cottage Hose Company Ambulance Service stationed a 24/7 ambulance in Honesdale on June 16. Pratt said that responders with Cottage have received 87 calls since that date: 49 in the borough of Honesdale, 26 in other areas protected by the Honesdale Fire Department and 12 outside of the area where they were requested to provide “mutual aid.”
Pratt said that Wayne Memorial Hospital has offered to lease three bays of the old ambulance building—which is connected to a condemned building—to the borough at no cost. The borough will await reports on the structural integrity of the building before making a decision about the lease.
The council also voted unanimously in favor of approving the Honesdale River Project, with the understanding the council’s own role in the completion of the project would be limited.