East Washington Council voted to delay a decision on the borough’s police department until next year during a brief, albeit fiery, meeting Monday night in which a councilman abruptly resigned and left minutes after it began.
The 5-to-1 vote to table any motion on the police department until the first meeting of 2014, leaves the decision up to the new board that will have four incoming members next year. Only Councilman Jeff Bull voted against delaying the decision.
Moments before the vote, Councilman Gregg Gould announced he was resigning from the board, despite having two more years left on his term, and left the meeting that was continued from the Nov. 18 public hearing on the police issue. He cited that previous meeting and the response to a police study by many of the 100 residents in attendance as reasons for his immediate departure.
“The important message that needed to be transmitted was never received and council looked disorganized and divided,” Gould said. “This was, to say the least, a disappointment to me, and my energy for continuing as a member of council has flagged.”
Gould was chastised by resident Matt Uram as he left the meeting room. Uram said after the meeting the council has not been open about its intentions with the police department or properly represented the people’s wishes. About 30 residents, all of whom appeared to support keeping the police department, attended Monday night’s meeting.
“I’m not afraid to speak,” Uram said. “Not when it comes to an important issue like this.”
That departure left an immediate hole on council that members said they plan to fill next month by appointing the top vote-getter in this year’s general election. That likely means Guy Tucci will be appointed, and the other two victorious candidates, Mary Taufer and Tamara Chacko, will be sworn-in Jan. 6. That still leaves one position open with Gould’s resignation.
Councilwoman Lisa Crosier made the suggestion of delaying the police department issue until a new council comes in next year so they would not be hamstrung by the decision.
“It’s a lame-duck council,” Crosier said of the current board. “We can’t bind them to this decision.”
Washington officials last month proposed to take over police services for the borough for about $118,000. The current police department costs the borough about $200,000 a year, and a counter proposal to raise its standards would cost about $260,000, according to an estimate by Crosier.
Bull said he has concerns about the department’s insurance liability, professionalism and finances.
“This borough has been kicking this can of the police department down the road for years,” Bulls said.
But borough solicitor Dennis Makel said the new board could take legal action next year to void the contract.
“It’s off the table,” Makel said to the 30 residents as they filed out of the meeting. “You can all go home.”