Turmoil in Honesdale over top cop; Council names police commissioner
At an emotionally charged October 14 meeting, the Honesdale Borough Council appointed Rick Southerton to a conditional one-year term as commissioner of police/police chief. Passage of the resolution by a partial council (Scott J. Smith and Sam B. Mikulak were absent) was greeted with angry dissent by the public contingent present to support Sergeant Ron Kominski’s candidacy for that office. Kominski, who has been performing the duties of the chief since Joseph LoBasso resigned that position on July 31, had previously filled in for LoBasso whenever he was unavailable.
Earlier in the meeting, Tiffany Kominski, accompanied by a dozen vocal supporters, spoke during the public comment segment. Alluding to the lawsuit brought by Kominski against the council for improper procedure with regard to a personnel action involving him, her pointed question to the council was, “Who will pay the court costs associated with the lawsuit?” Council President F. J. Monaghan deferred to borough solicitor Richard Henry, who stated that taxpayers would ultimately be responsible for those expenses. The lawsuit resulted in a decision that the council had followed improper procedure, and participating council members were ordered to pay a $100 fine each.
Mayor Ed Langendoerfer, who is official liaison between the council and the police department, appeared to be at odds with the council over passage of the resolution to appoint Southerton as police commissioner. Citing the fact that the council had recruited candidates for police chief, not commissioner of police, he asked whether recruiting for commissioner might have produced a different pool of candidates. Langendoerfer then publicly thanked Kominski for his exemplary service as acting chief, a sentiment echoed immediately by Monaghan, who added that “he has always been a fine police officer.”
The title change became necessary when a letter from the state civil service commission revealed that Southerton is currently ineligible to sit for the noncompetitive examination required of candidates for this position, because he has not completed one year of service in a Pennsylvania police department. When Southerton was nominated for the position of chief, both he and the council were aware of that requirement. However, both were also fairly confident that the civil service commission would readily grant a waiver of the requirement, in light of Southerton’s 20-plus years of law enforcement experience with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. When that proved not to be the case, the council changed the job title and limited Southerton’s appointment to a conditional one-year term. Southerton was scheduled to be sworn in by Langendoerfer at 10 a.m. on October 15.
What remains unclear are the nature and parameters of the new commissioner position. In question is whether the position will be that of a working police chief, with Southerton responding to incidents as a uniformed officer, or whether the position will be that of an administrator only. Both citizens and longtime Honesdale police officers have cited the need for additional officers in the borough. If Southerton’s appointment is as administrator only, it will effectively reduce the force by one officer.