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Police Department Survives Disbandment Attempt
Written by Bradley Schlegel, Staff Writer
2018-01-04

            A decision by East Greenville Borough Council to delay a motion to disband its police department reignited the debate over coverage in the borough and appeared to roil one elected official from Pennsburg. Near the end of Tuesday's meeting, Mayor Vicki Lightcap asked East Greenville's newly seated council to reconsider its decision and approve an interim contract agreement with her municipality to accept police service.

            "You heard the voters," Lightcap said. "You came to us and we talked. We were willing to sit down with you to talk about what is best for the entire valley. So I ask you to take the vote and stick with your word."

            Instead, East Greenville's council took no additional action, and new President Angie Fegely ended the meeting. Prior to the adjournment, former East Greenville council member Chrystal Connolly engaged verbally with Lightcap. The two traded insults and comments about previous incidents related to the dissolution of the Upper Perkiomen Police Commission, as well as other issues involving both communities. Council member Marita Thomson, sitting on the far end of the dais, began yelling at Lightcap.  

            The saga over East Greenville's deliberations over the future of police coverage reached a fever pitch during the three-and-a-half-hour meeting. After multiple comments, council tabled the motion to disband its police department. Council will delay a vote on the measure for three months. Members Joe Rock and Fegely voted against tabling the motion, which would have brought the Upper Perk Police Department back to the borough at midnight Wednesday.

            The motion would have provided round-the-clock coverage in the borough from the Pennsburg department on an interim basis. According to Solicitor Mike Peters, East Greenville officials would have paid Pennsburg $42,500 per month through March 17, unless the agreement was extended or made permanent.

Pennsburg's council approved a similar agreement during its reorganization meeting earlier Tuesday.

            According to Mayor Keith Gerhart, East Greenville officials are looking to finalize a three-year contract with the neighboring municipality.  "We're still in negotiations," he said prior to the vote.

            However, council did pass a motion introduced by council member Eric Grubb to fund an impartial survey for all borough residents to gauge opinions about the potential costs of maintaining the municipal police force or contracting out service from the neighboring municipality. Vice President James Raftery, Rock and Fegely voted against that motion.

            Manager Jim Fry told the members the Montgomery County Planning Commission could create the survey as part of their contract with the borough. Grubb could not provide a timeline for the surveymcreation.  "I want to make sure it is professionally done," he said after the meeting. 

            Fegely announced council's intent to disband the borough's police department, which was created June 1 after the municipality withdrew from the Upper Perk Police Commission, after emerging from a 35-minute executive session.

            The motion was not listed on the meeting agenda. According to Gerhart, the intent of the private meeting was to inform council's two holdover members – Thomson and Alison Palmer – of the temporary agreement with the neighboring borough. The plan was developed by Pennsburg officials and newly elected council members in three meetings over the past six weeks.

            Gerhart asked the borough's three police officers to attend the meeting. Chief Andrew Skelton said he had no idea why their presence was necessary.  "I feel a little slighted," he said.

            Skelton, addressing the members after the votes, asked them to explain the plan had the motion been approved. He asked to waive any confidentiality requirements related to his contract.  "The people need to hear," the chief said.

            Had the motion passed, Gerhart said he would have asked the officers turn over their weapons and badges. The state police would have been directed to cover the borough until midnight, when the Upper Perk Police Department would have taken over.

            "I am surprised by the expeditiousness of this process," Skelton said. 

            Prior to the votes Mike Schwenk implored council, including Gerhart and five new members, to approve the motion and bring the Pennsburg department back to East Greenville. "The voters have spoken," Schwenk said. "That's what you ran on."

            One woman told the members that public initially opposed the idea of the having the state police as its primary department, but many have grown to appreciate the local officers. "A lot of people's minds have changed," she said. 

            Tracey Hunsinger, the former president of council, said that unless the members were returning the Pennsburg department under circumstances identical to the previous arrangement, they owed it to the voters to slow down the process and educate the public on their plan.

            "This seems a lot like the previous borough council," Hunsinger said. "Are you any different?"

            East Greenville police responded to 51 calls for service – an average of 1.8 per day – in December, according to a monthly activity report available at the meeting. The department responded to 11 reported crimes during the month, and made two criminal arrests.

            In 2017, the department responded to 239 calls for service, which averages out to 1.7 calls per day, according to the report.

 


 

 

 

 

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