Nearly 100 visitors attended the Pennsburg borough council meeting on Tuesday night – about half of them were representing police fraternal organizations like FOP Lodge 14 and the Blue Knights. Several of them rose to speak to the council during the public comment period. They were there as a show of support for the Upper Perk Police Department and the officers who were the victims of the recent layoff.
There were about 20 Pennsburg residents and business owners in attendance as well and half of them spoke in support of the police or against the cutback. Other visitors from other municipalities were also in attendance and a few addressed the council.
Officials listened to what they had to say.
It was obvious from the comments and discussions that there was a tremendous amount of misinformation floating out in the public. Council President John Lear provided a concise timeline of events from Aug. 27 through Nov. 29 that provided the public with a look into the process of how we got to where we were last night.
In summary, back in August officials feared they wouldn’t have enough funds to finance the department as it existed. In September the police officers offered concessions for 2013; the police commission promised no layoffs for 2013 in return for those concessions.
When Pennsburg officials were presented with the agreement change late in October, they approved it, tentative to a legal review by their solicitor - standard procedure to ensure that all of the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed. At the solicitor’s recommendation, council requested language to be inserted on the municipalities’ side of the agreement to ensure that everything agreed to would expire with the existing contract on Dec. 31, 2013.
On Nov. 8 that request was forwarded to Ryan Sloyer, chairman of the Upper Perk Police Commission, who forwarded it to the officers and police commission solicitor. On Nov. 20 East Greenville officials attended the Pennsburg borough council meeting to inform them that the officers turned down the agreement. On Nov. 26, the Upper Perk Police Commission voted for a reduction in the police force.
Contrary to the belief of many who spoke, the Pennsburg borough council didn’t lay anyone off. That’s the job of the Upper Perk Police Commission. The current agreement provides for a 90-day notice of the intent to layoff. That means that the officers could have remained on the job well into February while negotiations continued. Last week’s layoff was at the recommendation of the chief of police, who had valid reasons for his recommendation. Being an administrator means you sometimes have to make tough, unpopular recommendations.
When the time to address the topic of the police department and its budget came, Pennsburg officials were well prepared with a series of four options. Three of the four included tax increases of various rates and with them the most-likely restoration of the police department to pre-November staffing levels.
The council opted to fund their entire budget commitment to the police commission with budget cuts elsewhere and a tax increase.
The fact that officials from East Greenville and Pennsburg adjusted their budgets over the past week to fund the police commission budget to allow for the existing staff and bring back the furloughed officers shows that they are flexible and able to react to input from the public.
It just would have been much simpler if this could have been identified publicly and remedied back in October.
Officials from both boroughs need to learn from this event and then put it behind them, remembering that they must work together for the good of all of the people.
Timely communications is the key to any successful working relationship.