The Tunkhannock Borough Council voted on Thursday to defer the hiring of a fourth full-time police officer until the spring of 2018.
The motion for the deferment was made by Marshall Davis, and seconded by Scott Douthett, and was unanimous.
Before the vote was taken, council met for about a half hour in executive session to discuss ‘labor negotiations matters related to the collective bargaining agreement.’ When council resumed its regular meeting, President Stacy Huber apologized for taking so long and said that while everyone survived the executive session, it did “require a few transfusions.”
Also before the vote Police Chief Keith Carpenter informed the council that he had discussed the situation with the rest of the department. Carpenter explained that the union decided it would be best to accept the deferment until 2018 and will not seek a grievance on the matter.
Part of the borough’s agreement with the police included the hiring of a fourth full-time officer in 2017.
The chief praised the efforts of Officer Dustin Cokely during the shooting at Weis supermarket in Eaton Township on June 8. Cokely was the first officer to arrive at the scene, he said, and handled the situation with the utmost professionalism.
During the incident, and before authorities arrived on the scene, Weis employee Randy Stair, 24, of Dallas, shot and killed three co-workers before turning his gun on himself.
Weis has been closed since the shooting, and has announced it will be reopening its doors on Thursday.
Carpenter also asked the possibility of council promoting Cokely to sergeant.
“From my point of view, Officer Cokely is the best officer we’ve had here,” Carpenter said, explaining that some of the detectives from Luzerne County have been coming to him for advice on certain cases.
Council member Robert Robinson said that for Cokely to be promoted he would have to first pass the civil service examine as required by state law. Davis told Carpenter he should submit a letter to the borough, formally requesting that Cokely be allowed to take the examine.
Carpenter said he was aware of the examination requirement, and would submit the letter. He also suggested that in the interim, council consider appointed Cokely as an acting sergeant. Sgt. Robert Roberts now holds such a position, the chief said, and he would like to see Cokley hold such a position as well.
Also in police matters, at Davis’ instruction, Carpenter informed the council about a major drug bust conducted by the department in the borough. He said that a car was stopped in the borough at Readfield and Digger Drive, after being pursued by Tunkhannock Township Police Officer Steven Williams. It was determined that a methamphetamine lab was concealed in the cars’ truck, the chief said. Officer Paul Henn of the borough police assisted at the scene, along with the state police once it was determined methamphetamine was in the vehicle.
In other business, Huber reported that the judge hearing the case involving Handbrake Holdings accepted all the paperwork, and is expected to make a ruling in a few weeks. Handbrake Holdings is seeking to have its properly on West Tioga Street rezoned as business, and filed a court case after twice being turned down by the local zoning hearing board.
Huber also reported that council has received a rewritten final draft of proposed changes to the borough zoning codes. The draft will be submitted to the Borough Planning Commission, as well as the solicitor, for legal review.
During the report on Riverside Park, Davis asked about the status of the caboose located on the tracks in the area. Mayor Norman Ball explained that George Gay donated the caboose to the borough several years ago. The borough can donate the caboose to a non-profit organization, he said. But if it is sold, Tunkhannock would have to return a $7,500 grant it obtained from the Department of Community and Economic Development to fix it up.
Council was also informed that the borough will receive $29,158 this year from Act 13, which is the severance fee levied on natural gas wells.