MINGO JUNCTION - Seven village police officers are now laid off after Mayor Domenic Chappano was granted the authority to do so by Jefferson County Common Pleas Court Judge David Henderson on Tuesday.
The last shift clocked out at 11 p.m. Wednesday, leaving Police Chief Steve Maguschak to patrol the village of more than 3,000 residents.
The mayor confirmed today the officers have been laid off until budget numbers are reviewed at the start of January. It is the hope of officials to bring back many, if not all, of those officers at that time. But for now, with the financial crisis the village is facing - including not having enough money in the safety forces fund to cover the chief's salary through the end of the year, Mingo residents are being encouraged by Maguschak to call 911 when an emergency arises.
Chappano agrees people should call 911, but said that has always been the case when an emergency occurs.
"People think there is no police or security here, and they're wrong," Chappano said.
It has been noted by officials that through mutual aid, backup assistance is provided by surrounding law enforcement agencies.
"Here's what I want to know," Chappano continued. "When Steubenville laid off their officers and the police force shut down in Brilliant, the media never had the coverage that we are getting now. You never saw any controversy there. But now, it's all over the news because we're laying off. They are basically telling criminals to come on in to the village."
Chappano said he heard Commercial Street business Valley One Federal Credit Union is planning to close its doors following the announcement of the layoffs. The mayor said he doesn't understand the urgency of the business wanting to close when the "police chief is 30 yards away."
"Huntington (Bank) isn't closing," he added. "But if that's (Valley One's) wish, that's their wish."
A call to officials at the credit union early today was not returned.
Chappano also commented that if people believe Mingo Junction has been put in jeopardy, it is because of the Mingo Junction Safety Forces Association Local 1 contract and not because of Village Council.
"If they (police) had taken the three layoffs we suggested to them back in March, this wouldn't have happened. But they didn't. And now look where we are," Chappano said.
A majority rule by Village Council in March led to the attempt of laying off three officers due to finances. Officials say in doing so, there would have been enough money remaining in the budget for five officers to continue working through the end of the year. But an injunction was filed by the safety forces, claiming the layoffs were in violation of their labor contract with the village.
Council later rescinded the ordinance that would have allowed for the lay off of those officers because Chappano said he did not answer the grievance in a timely manner. He previously said defending the action would have been costly to the village at a time when it simply could not afford it.
With finances continuing to dwindle, council met again in mid-August and by another majority vote, instructed Chappano to begin departmental and police layoffs. That meeting was held due to the union's contract having expired Aug. 15, the mayor said.
Layoff notices then were sent to the seven officers who filed another injunction with the court. This time, Henderson granted a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to the safety forces until he made his ruling Tuesday.
His ruling found the mayor was the "proper appointing authority for police officers" and said Chappano can give the approval for the layoffs.
The judge also ordered both parties to engage in grievance and arbitration procedures.
(Ghrist can be contacted at email@example.com.)