W-B Mayor: Police Report Is ‘a Witch Hunt’
WILKES-BARRE — Mayor Tony George believes a recent assessment critical of police department leadership is one-sided, but he still plans to follow recommendations of the assessors and to restructure the department.
George on Monday compared the assessment process employed by Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association assessors to “a witch hunt” for police Chief Marcella Lendacky, and he called the resulting report released last week “mostly one-sided.”
The mayor, a former city police chief himself, also contended that Lendacky, a 29-year department veteran, is qualified for the post, citing her experience in supervisory positions and a supervisory training class she took as a lieutenant.
Assessors believe Lendacky’s lack of leadership/executive training is evident in her unfamiliarity with several current best practices and a range of administrative responsibilities.
“I don’t totally believe in the assessment, but I will follow the recommendations because I told them, whatever it takes to move the department forward, I’ll do,” George said.
As the department moves forward, it will do so under different leadership. Lendacky last week submitted her notice of intent to retire June 3.
Time, money at issue
George said the PCPA is correct that Lendacky has an autocratic, “my-way-or-the-highway” leadership style, but he said that’s necessary in a police agency and asserted that the military and state police also have autocratic leadership.
In addressing Lendacky’s qualifications, George said having a chief who has taken a leadership/executive training course provided by organizations such as the FBI National Academy or the Penn State University Police Executive Development program would be “ideal.”
However, he said, the city couldn’t afford to send Lendacky for such training because of the cost and the need for her to address the boatload of labor disputes that began following her January 2016 appointment.
“We don’t have the money or the time,” George said, adding that Lendacky “eventually would have gotten (such) training” if the union didn’t try to block so many of her initiatives.
George added that he didn’t believe the city would attract any police chief applicants with the kind of leadership training proposed by the assessors.
PCPA Executive Director Tom Gross declined to comment on George’s characterizations of the assessment because “(the city is) our customer.”
However, Gross he said he and PCPA staff are available to the mayor and city manager “for a conversation” about the review and assessment.
Asked to explain the difference between leadership/executive training and the 4½-day Police Supervisor In-Service Training course that Lendacky took as a lieutenant, Gross said the POSIT course trains new supervisors who directly oversee employees, while leadership programs train in budgeting, human resources, discipline, labor relations and a range of administrative responsibilities.
“POSIT would not cover executive management of a police agency,” Gross said.
Gross also said most other third-class cities have police chiefs with a combination of advanced law enforcement degrees and leadership/executive training.
Union partly at fault?
George also pointed to sections of the report he contends show that the Police Benevolent Association shares blame for problems within the department.
While George and Lendacky acknowledge that the department’s directives system is disorganized, sometimes contradictory and in need of revamping, they also say Lendacky didn’t have time to fix it because the union challenged her every initiative with a grievance.
George pointed to a section of the report that states: “There appears to be a cycle of passive-aggressive behavior that has evolved where the PBA resists the administration’s efforts to change practices and grieves the majority of issued discipline.”
“It takes two to tango,” George said. “It wasn’t just her, as (most of) the report said.”
Conflict in roles
George noted another report passage that states the dual roles of Sgt. Phil Myers of an acting watch commander and police union president are in conflict when discipline is called for.
“I suggest the PBA not have a ranking officer be part of the (union) board,” George said.
The report notes that Lendacky cited a 1999 memorandum of understanding between the city and union supporting the practice of the senior sergeant or a ranking sergeant on the lieutenant promotion list functioning as an acting watch commander.
However, the report goes on to say that Myers had “requested relief from the acting position” and that Lendacky “should take initiative to remedy the conflict by reassigning the acting position to another sergeant.”
Asked if he disagreed with the assessors on the issue and if the acting position would be reassigned, George replied: “When the lieutenant is off, the sergeant becomes the active watch commander, per the (union contract).”
“That has been the standard as long as I can remember, from when I started with the WBPD in the ’70s,” George said.
George said he will work to restructure the department over the next month, and that new structure will affect how he selects a new police chief.
The mayor couldn’t yet say if he will advertise the position outside the department. He said it’s a city policy to hire from within the department unless there are no qualified individuals currently employed.
He hopes to make a choice in May so that person can spend at least a couple weeks working with Lendacky during “a transition period.”
George said he hopes union officials as well as rank-and-file officers cooperate with the new chief to facilitate the implementation of recommendations for improving department operations made by the chiefs association.
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