Wellsville council, mayor still at odds over police chief

WELLSVILLE – Sticking with her original recommendation, Mayor Susan Haugh on Wednesday again proposed Detective Michael Harty as the village’s next police chief, but Village Council voted unanimously against her choice.

The mayor’s recommendation followed considerable public comment and a 35-minute executive session called for hiring personnel.

The bulk of the public comment centered on support not for Harty but for Lt. Ed Wilson, who had been named as one of three people Haugh was considering for the position after the recent death of Chief Joe Scarabino.

Council recently failed to take any action on the same recommendation for Harty during a special meeting, adjourning without making a motion or commenting.

It was mentioned during the meeting that the third candidate has withdrawn from consideration.

Most of those who supported Wilson spoke of his tenure with the village police department, having served since 1988.

Mike Varish of 10th Street started the dialogue by saying if council failed to approve the mayor’s recommendation, she should be prepared to bring forth another, pointing to nearby Chester, W.Va., where the new mayor did just that when council failed to support his recommended change in police chiefs.

“You can reward a man for (26) years of service or you can turn your back on him and toss him aside. The choice is yours. You’ve made that abundantly clear,” Varish challenged.

Others called Wilson “a fine man,” “the logical choice,” “very kind,” and former council member John McClelland said that, while Harty is also probably a fine police officer, he had not spent nearly 30 years with the department and council needs to consider seniority in choosing a chief.

“Anyone who sticks that long deserves a shot,” McClelland said, pointing out there is a six-month probationary period.

Retired Wellsville officer Dan Saracco also spoke on Wilson’s behalf, saying he worked with him in good times and bad and that the officer is “more than qualified” and that he would “trust my life to him.”

Haugh was asked by Courtney Pratt why, if she has personal issues with Wilson, she had not recused herself from the interview process, but Haugh denied the accusation, saying, “It’s not personal. I’m carrying out my responsibilities. I took an oath to do what I’m doing.”

In making her recommendation, Haugh said she had looked at it fairly and questioned herself several times whether her choice of Harty was a personal issue against Wilson and decided it was an issue of picking the best person.

Harty also had some support among the crowd, with Barb Recek saying that, while she agrees Wilson deserves accolades for his years on the force, the village needs someone fresh, saying that Harty has done a “magnificent job since he’s been here.”

Harty has been on the Wellsville force since 2013, serving as its drug task force officer.

Cena Douglas also spoke on Harty’s behalf, saying simply, “I go with Harty.”

Cheryl Jackson said her son was involved in one of the unsolved crimes in the town and she would like to see it solved, so she supports Harty, also questioning why the other candidate dropped out because he couldn’t interview by a deadline and yet Wilson is still being considered even though he has not yet interviewed.

Wilson was asked during a lull in the meeting about his failure to interview and said his lawyer advised him to ask for a continuance, which Haugh declined to grant him. Haugh said after the meeting that is untrue, saying he asked for a day or two but then never called to reschedule.

After the meeting, council members were asked why they voted against Harty’s appointment, and Randy Allmon said while Harty is a “fine man,” he has a “gut feeling it wouldn’t work out” with the other officers if he is hired.

Don Brown said he has known Wilson a long time and the officer “knows everyone in town.” He said all village employees are like family and Wilson is the only one he will vote for.

Diane Dinch said she has nothing against Harty, who she said is qualified and doing a good job, but that Wilson, as a lieutenant, outranks Harty, who is a sergeant.

“Eddie has given and given to this community. And, I have never been given an answer (by the mayor) why she wouldn’t support him,” Dinch added.

Also saying he has nothing against Harty, John Morrow said the village has, in the past, always followed lines of seniority in hiring and also mentioned council could revisit the idea of administering an Ohio Police Chiefs Association test to hire, which Allmon also suggested during the meeting.

Councilman Nancy Murray was the only one polled who spoke against Harty, saying she feels he lied on his resume.

On his application, Harty wrote, “In my 32 years of law enforcement I have no complaints or documented complaints in any personnel file from either citizens or fellow officers.”

However, in a personnel file from the Atlanta Police Department where Harty was formerly employed, which Murray provided, five citizen complaints were listed dating from the 1980s.

Three were listed as operation of city vehicles, two of which garnered Harty written reprimands. One was listed as a “courtesy” for which he was exonerated and the last was for maltreatment or unnecessary force which was not sustained.

After the meeting, Haugh was asked if she was concerned not with the fact that her chosen candidate had received complaints but that he had not disclosed that fact on his resume.

“He said in his resume that he does not have any complaints from citizens or fellow officers and he doesn’t. He has a couple dings because he wrecked his cruiser during pursuits early in his career,” she replied.

Haugh said one complaint involved a person he arrested who fired a gun at Harty, who took him to the ground and handcuffed him, resulting in the man accusing Harty of being too rough, which she said was “thrown out.”

“Mike didn’t lie,” she said.

Councilman Tony Cataldo left village hall before he could be asked for comment on his no vote.

Whether or not Haugh will continue to recommend Harty remains to be seen, and Solicitor Andy Beech was uncertain what the next step will be, saying the situation now facing council is “unique.”