W-B Police Chief Will Exit In June
WILKES-BARRE — Embattled city police Chief Marcella Lendacky will step down from her post in June, Mayor Tony George announced Wednesday.
Lendacky issued a letter to the mayor informing him she will retire on June 3, George said in a mid-afternoon press release.
“I want to thank Chief Lendacky for the 29 years of service she provided to the City of Wilkes-Barre and its residents. I certainly wish her the best as she moves on to her next chapter,” George said.
The announcement comes after the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association recently issued a report critical of Lendacky’s management of the department.
Hours before George’s announcement, Councilwoman Beth Gilbert confirmed in an email that council members were provided with a copy of the report.
While she said she couldn’t comment on specifics contained in the report, she said it states that both Lendacky and Patrol Division Commander Ronald Foy “are lacking qualifications and effective leadership to lead our police department.”
Gilbert said the assertion is backed by statements from police leadership, police officers, the police union and city officials, including herself.
In her initial statement, which she sent before the retirement announcement, Gilbert had said she hoped both Lendacky and Foy would “see their shortcomings and agree to step down over the next few days so that new, more effective and qualified leadership can take over.
”I look forward to a new beginning for our police department,” she had said.
Neither Lendacky nor Foy returned messages seeking comment.
Public must wait
While the administration had a draft of the report since last week, city Administrator Ted Wampole said he picked up the final report in Harrisburg on Tuesday and released it to council members and the police union on Wednesday.
Wampole said the report would be released to the public after city Attorney Tim Henry analyzes it to determine what if any parts should be redacted so that no information exempted by the Pennsylvania Right to Know Law would be made released.
He expected it to take a few days.
Asked if he was surprised by anything in the report, Wampole said “some parts were a bit surprising,” but he declined to elaborate or comment on the report contents until after the review.
A ‘dysfunctional’ department
Council in November voted to accept a proposal from the chiefs association for review and assessment of the police department for a total cost of $26,212. The administration entered into an agreement, and association staff began the review in early December.
Council members had said the department had become “dysfunctional” since union leaders began criticizing Lendacky’s leadership after George appointed her police chief early in 2016.
Over the past two years, the city has spent more than $132,000 defending grievances and unfair labor practice complaints filed by the police union.
Union officials have accused the administration of retaliation through suspensions of officers and the firing last year of police union vice president Dan Duffy for their criticism of Lendacky and the administration.
Duffy and union president Sgt. Phil Myers, who was among those officers facing suspension, filed a civil rights lawsuit in federal court in January, naming the city, George, Lendacky and Foy as defendants.
George has consistently denied any retaliation against officers and has defended Lendacky and her performance.
Myers on Wednesday afternoon said he wanted to review the report with other members of the union board before commenting on specifics.
He did say that “a majority of the concerns we’ve been bringing up to the administration were kind of validated in the report.”
PBA officials on Wednesday evening released a statement saying union leadership “obviously agrees with an overwhelming majority of the findings” of the chiefs association.
“Many of the concerns and issues with our department’s leadership raised by this well-respected, independent agency have been made public by our association prior to Chief Lendacky’s appointment in 2016,” the PBA officials said.
The officials thanked council, as well as George and his administration, for commissioning the assessment, with the biggest regret being that “tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars was spent not only on this study, but unnecessary labor costs.”
“Now our focus is renewed cooperation with the mayor, city council and future police leadership,” PBA officials said. “The goal of our association continues to be working to ensure the safety of our residents, and those who visit or work in the City of Wilkes-Barre.”
Asked Wednesday if Lendacky indicated a reason for retiring at this juncture, George said it was “just to move forward.” He said he did not try to persuade her to stay.
“I always tell everybody, ‘You got to do what’s best for you,’” George said. “If I wanted to retire, I wouldn’t want anybody trying to talk me out of it.”
Councilman Mike Belusko had said George told him Wednesday morning to expect “a shake-up on the top shelf” of police administration.
George said he has not yet decided who he will ask to succeed Lendacky, and he wouldn’t comment on any other potential changes in police administration because they would fall under the category of “personnel issues.”
He also declined to discuss his impressions of the report’s contents because Henry was still analyzing it to determine on which parts he could comment without having to worry about a potential lawsuit.
“We’ll see what we can say and what we can’t,” George said.
Asked about Lendacky’s performance, George said she spent “29 years on the job and did everything in the department.”
“And regardless of the criticism she’s getting, over the last two years, the crime rate went down. She had a mission and she fulfilled that mission,” George said. “They might not have liked her leadership, but she got the job done.”
Council Chairman Tony Brooks said the report “pulls no punches” and makes it clear that “change is needed” in the department.
Brooks said the report offers 30 recommendations that he fully supports.
Furthermore, Brooks said, he would like to see the department work toward becoming certified by the Pennsylvania Law Enforcement Accreditation Commission.
Brooks also hopes George will seriously consider interviewing police chief candidates from outside the area.
“From time to time, every organization needs to have an outside pair of eyes come into a leadership role,” he said. “You can see examples of this in corporate America, government and nonprofits.”
Belusko said implementing report recommendations will ensure that problems in the department “get all ironed out. I think the mayor will do the right thing by the public, whatever needs to be done.”
Councilman Mike Merritt did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
Councilman Bill Barrett, who along with Gilbert led the charge on council for a departmental review, could not be reached for comment.
In addition to thanking Barrett and other council members for supporting the review, Gilbert said she was especially grateful to Myers, Duffy and “all the officers who came forward to give their side of the story,” calling them “the definition of bravery.”
“You all are the true heroes here, and you deserve all the praise in the world for helping to stand up for what is right, even when it felt like the world was against you,” she said.
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The following is a chronological list of significant events in Wilkes-Barre police Chief Marcella Lendacky’s law enforcement career.
1989: Hired by Wilkes-Barre Police Department, joining her husband on the force and becoming the third female cop in city history.
1997: After eight years on patrol, named the city’s Drug Abuse Resistance Education officer.
2002: Promoted to sergeant of patrol.
2003: Named sergeant of records division.
2011: Promoted to lieutenant, becoming the first woman to rise in the ranks to that post; served as commanding officer of overnight shift.
2016: Appointed police chief by new Mayor Tony George.
2018: Announced retirement after release of report critical of her management.
— BY BOB KALINOWSKI