Mayor absent, police chief job remains vacant

WELLSVILLE – Those who packed Village Council chambers Tuesday night hoping to hear a new police chief named were disappointed when no action was taken due to the absence of Mayor Susan Haugh.

“Where’s the mayor?” demanded 10th Street resident Mike Varish, after council had excused an absent Councilman John Morrow due to illness.

Council Pro Tem Randy Allmon said, “I heard she’s on vacation.”

“Doesn’t she report to anyone?” Varish asked, to which Allmon replied, “Apparently not.”

Varish said he had hoped to ask Haugh how many times she can nominate the same candidate for police chief and have council vote against him, which Allmon referred to solicitor Andy Beech.

Beech said he knew of no law prohibiting the mayor from making the same nomination every two weeks if she desired to do so, prompting Varish to comment, “This surely isn’t the only thing Wellsville council needs to be doing.”

Haugh has recommended Detective Michael Harty as police chief twice. Council failed to act the first time and voted 6-0 against the recommendation the second time.

Allmon said the issue has “united” council and has “brought us closer together,” but did not explain further.

Retired Wellsville police officer Dan Saracco addressed council, thanking members for “sticking together,” and saying that, while the village has been making strides, this controversy over hiring a police chief will “drag us backward.”

Saying the debate is not about candidates Harty or Lt. Ed Wilson but the police department as a whole, Saracco said, “Everyone here can do all phases of police work. Every department loves to hire Wellsville officers.”

He said that, while Harty may be qualified for the position, most police departments require an officer to be on the force five years before considering a move up, let alone a promotion to chief, pointing out that Harty has just barely gotten off probation status with Wellsville, “has never been on the street, never had a (Wellsville) uniform on.”

He urged council to “stand your ground,” saying, “I applaud you,” which garnered him a round of applause from the audience.

When asked by someone in the audience if council believes officer Harty is qualified for the position of chief, Allmon said, “This is a dead issue, and I’m not going to revisit this at every meeting,” while Councilman Tony Cataldo pointed out that council must be careful discussing specifics of personnel matters in public.

With that in mind, Allmon called an executive session for personnel matters pertaining to hiring of the police chief.

After returning to regular session, he reiterated that council could take no action without the mayor making a recommendation.

“I wish we could appoint a chief. We are united. There is lots I’d like to say, but I’m not going to, and it’s killing me,” Allmon said.

After a brief pause, he continued with emotion, “This is personal to me, trust me. It’s not right. What is happening to this town is not right. Other towns are making fun of us.”

Saying he and his wife could have lived anywhere, Allmon said they chose to stay in Wellsville and said, “I won’t put up with any bullies,” without elaborating.

As the meeting adjourned, Lt. Wilson attempted to ask again how long the mayor can continue nominating the same person, but no answer was forthcoming as council voted to adjourn.

After the meeting, Harty’s wife, Karenna, walked out of the building after Allmon, saying she wanted to speak to him. Soon after, police officers were called outside, where Allmon was heard shouting at Mrs. Harty, telling her not to make comments about his wife.

Officers told Mrs. Harty to get into her vehicle and leave the premises, which she did.