Saying He Was Mocked by Fellow Police Commissioners, Mayor Tells Mt. Pocono to Drop Regional Police
MOUNT POCONO – Saying “Regional Police is pricing itself out of existence,” Mount Pocono mayor Michael Christopher Penn told the Mount Pocono Borough Council to consider dropping Regional Police as the borough’s law enforcement agency.
Penn had been asked by council president Claudette Williams to discuss fireworks in the borough. He started by claiming that, in early July, while responding to a supposed ordinance violation at a local business, “I called for police assistance and they didn’t show up.” He then asserted “I have a stack of complaints and no response from the Regional Police,” supposedly reported to him by residents. Penn then said he wanted to use the fireworks issue to “lead into a bigger discussion” - namely dropping Regional Police coverage in the borough.
The “bigger” issue he wanted to discuss goes back to May of this year when, at Penn’s insistence, council refused to pay the entire invoice submitted by Regional Police for the first quarter. At the time, Penn and Williams, who each serve as the borough representatives on the regional police commission, said they did not want to pay the two percent increase in the Regional 2020 budget (for which they had voted as Commission members in 2019). The difference amounted to $1,220.56 per month.
At the time, Police Chief Christopher Wagner told The Boro that the 2020 regional budget included a 2% increase from the very first draft in October, 2019, and no commissioner or municipality objected. He said that the budget was discussed at the October, November, and December 2019 police commission meetings, and was “adopted unanimously. The 2% increase amounts to a quarterly increase of $3,661.67 for the Borough.” (At the Borough Council meeting, Penn said that the first draft sought a ten percent increase. A review of Commission meeting minutes could not confirm that claim.)
A review of commission meeting minutes from that period reveal no objection to any increase from either Williams or the mayor. In December, Williams joined the rest of the commission in voting to adopt the increased budget. The mayor was absent from that meeting.
However, he was at the October 2019 meeting at which the commissioners unanimously voted to forward the budget with the 2% increase to the member municipalities. He was also at the November 2019 meeting at which the commissioners reviewed a revised budget, which still included the 2% increase. No objection was noted in the minutes, which included a section for individual municipalities to raise any concerns.
The Regional Police is funded by five area municipalities. In addition to the Borough, Barrett, Coolbaugh, Tobyhanna, and Tunkhannock Townships contribute to the Regional budget. The two percent increase was across the board and impacted all five municipalities. After the mayor and Williams led the refusal of the borough to pay the budgeted amount for which they had voted as police commissioners, there were complaints from the other townships who did not want to pay for the resulting shortfall.
At the July Commission meeting (which took place immediately before the borough council meeting at which Penn urged council to drop the Regional Police), representatives from the other municipalities voiced their concerns about the apparent violation of the inter-municipal agreement regarding the Regional Police operations and funding. The vice-chair of the Commission, Tunkhannock Township’s Fran DePiano, complained that Penn and Williams went through the entire budget process without voicing any objections, saying that “for six months” they “knowingly (were) part of the process of putting together the budget.”
Coolbaugh Township’s representative, Anthony Lamantia, told Penn that, “my municipality is not picking up (your portion)”. Similarly, Brendon Carroll, a commissioner from Tobyhanna Township, complained that “you are leaving the remaining municipalities to pick up the difference!”
In 2019, the department added about $600,000 to its reserves and Penn wanted to take the difference out of that fund. The other members objected that those funds don’t belong to Mount Pocono, “if it comes out of the reserves, it still comes from everybody,” Lamantia said. “We still have to pay for your decreased hours,” Carroll added. (Penn represented that amount as a budget excess.)
At the Borough meeting, Penn complained that the other Commission members had “mocked Mount Pocono”. He also claimed that it was the other members of the Commission who suggested that Mount Pocono consider withdrawing from the Commission.
Penn also accused the Commission of conducting an illegal executive session for the sole purpose of abusing Penn “behind closed doors”. The accusation is ironic as the mayor himself attended what appears to have been an illegal executive session recently conducted by the Mount Pocono Municipal Authority.
He then told council they should consider giving the Commission notice that the Borough was going to withdraw from regional. Such a notice needs to be given a year in advance and would be effective on the first January 1 which is one year or more after notice is given.
One of his suggested options was to rely on state police coverage of the borough, which is free. He noted that the Regional Police budget for Mount Pocono amounts to nearly half of the entire Mount Pocono budget and that if the borough opted for state police coverage, there would be no cost to the borough. He claimed that the state police told him that “we’d likely have full time coverage in the borough.” Another benefit is that the state police would be permitted to use radar to enforce speed limits in the borough, whereas under state law, municipal police departments are not permitted to use that technology.
Council member Fran O’Boyle noted that the state police would not enforce borough ordinances. Penn responded that “neither does regional”. Council members Ron Emilie and Thomas Neville said they were in favor of giving regional immediate notice that the borough would withdraw from the agreement. Since it was a work session, no action could be taken at that July meeting. At the regular August meeting, council did not address the issue, saying it would take it up at the August 17 work session. However, council member Aida Montanez did say that she was not in favor of dropping Regional Police coverage in the Borough.
The next meeting of the Mount Pocono Borough Council is a worksession on Monday, August 17. It will be held in-person, at the Borough Building at 7 pm. Reportedly, it will also be available via Zoom, since only a dozen or so members of the public may attend in person due to the 25-person limit on indoor meetings. Channel 570 will also livestream the meeting on Facebook. You can listen to the police coverage discussion in this audio clip, courtesy of The Boro.