Wellsville police chief stalemate drags on

WELLSVILLE – Tuesday’s Village Council meeting yielded little progress toward naming a replacement for the late chief of police Joe Scarabino.

The subject of choosing a new chief was at the forefront of the meeting from the beginning, as residents who were part of a standing-room-only crowd spoke, urging Mayor Susan Haugh to make an appointment.

“Mayor, what are we doing tonight?” asked Mike Varrish, a 10th Street resident who has been outspoken in his criticism of the mayor. “I’m hearing rumors that a fourth guy is in the picture now for the nomination. There is nothing I can say or do to change your mind – I know that. You won’t listen to the voices of reason, so I’m going to sit here and watch and wait and, hopefully, you’ll come around to the right way of thinking.”

Haugh responded that was his opinion. Varrish countered that six council people agreed with his view that Police Lt. Ed Wilson should be Scarabino’s successor.

“I do appreciate your passion about this, I really do admire it,” said Haugh. “This, (referring to the large crowd in attendance) as much as I respect and appreciate it, I wish this was every single meeting. When this (chief controversy) is all said and done, we may have two or three people here, and it’s a shame because there’s been a lot going on in Wellsville these last few years.”

Haugh called Tuesday night’s audience a “small percentage” of the people in Wellsville. She told Varrish that while the audience’s opinions matters to her, they represented only a portion of the people she was elected to represent.

“I can’t even tell you how many people have come spoke to me personally – I take those into consideration too,” said Haugh. “We’ll get through this and we’ll move forward.”

Varrish countered that council members had been in touch with their constituents and who have voiced their support for Wilson.

“For the life of me, I cannot believe that more people have called you and told you they’re against Wilson than the people who have called all six of them (council members) – you must be on the phone 24/7.”

Haugh responded that she had been on the phone with constituents nearly non-stop in the time since the controversy started.

Nunzio “Sam” Lombardozi, a Clove Street resident and former mayor and member of council, offered the mayor and council some advice. He thanked council and the mayor for keeping open lines of communication and said he feels encouraged by the public’s interest in choosing the next chief.

“I feel all of your pain right now, I was in that seat for 14 years,” said Lombardozi.

He said village officials have lingered too long on the decision and encouraged them to resolve the issue as soon as possible. He ended his comment with a favorite quotation from a former council person he had served with: “A wise person will change their mind, but a fool never does.”

Following the handling of some regular council business, Councilman Randy Allmon asked that council enter executive session for personnel reasons and be joined by the mayor and solicitor Andy Beech.

Despite some speculation that the executive session might have been to discuss the chief’s appointment, council returned with a different topic. Allmon announced he had been researching the possibility of drug testing all village employees, including elected officials. He reported that he had recently contacted the drug screening company O’Mara Safety Services about providing the village with drug testing services. According to Allmon, the drug testing policy would require all village employees to undergo an initial screening and then random screenings after that. He said drug testing all employees would cost the village about $5,000,, but added there are grants available to defray the expense. He noted that with a drug testing policy the village would get a discounted rate on its workers’ compensation coverage.

“Anyone who gets a paycheck in Wellsville will be tested, including us,” said Allmon.

Council took no action on adopting the drug testing policy.

At the end of the meeting. Haugh addressed rumors about her absence from previous council meeting.

“Let me say something about me being on vacation, since there was so much discussion about it,” said Haugh. “It’s the first full week I had taken off in three years – I deserved it. My secretary knew I was on vacation, council member (Tony) Cataldo knew I was on vacation and administrator Thom Edgell knew I was on vacation. I don’t pick up and leave without anybody knowing about it, although Facebook would tell it differently. I don’t want it put in the paper that I am on vacation, because if I were to go somewhere I would have to cancel because everybody in this area would know my house is empty.”