Chalk one up for the underdogs. Actually, chalk two up.
John Conley played the role of swing voter at a special Baldwin Council meeting on Tuesday night, joining fellow Councilmen Bob Collet, Larry Brown and Ed Moeller in support of adding a full-time patrol officer to the Baldwin Borough Police Department roster.
The foursome made up an unofficial majority during the meeting—which was scheduled as part of a continued discussion regarding the borough's 2013 budget—when council members couldn't agree on whether or not to add the police officer.
Although the borough's 2013 budget hasn't been passed yet—it will have to be before 2012 is over—the trio of council President David Depretis, council Vice President Michael Stelmasczyk and council President Pro Tempore John Ferris lost, 4-3, in their unofficial vote against adding the officer for 2013.
Conley also joined the majority, 4-3, in agreeing to apply more funds to the borough's 2013 road program than what was originally budgeted. He again opposed Depretis, Stelmasczyk and Ferris, whom he had been supporting with many key votes over the past year, in doing so.
CORRECTION (Nov. 14, 1:47 p.m.): Depretis said that he never voiced unofficial votes on Tuesday for either the road program or the police officer. However, Depretis said that he would not have voted for the police officer but would have voted to give additional funds to the road program. The B-W Patch regrets the error.
Stelmasczyk was outspoken in his opposition to adding the police officer, who would start working on March 1, 2013, and would cost the borough around $58,000 that year. The vice president called the future hiring "fiscally irresponsible," citing statistics that show that some municipalities of similar population to Baldwin's—Moon, Peters and Scott townships and West Mifflin Borough—handle their responsibilities with fewer officers.
"I think we need to look at productivity (with the Baldwin police)," Stelmasczyk said. "I'm sick and tired of seeing police cars down at The Chesapeake parking lot."
To that effect, Ferris accused Baldwin police Chief Michael Scott of lying about his department's need for another officer.
"I'll tell him that to his face," Ferris said while also arguing that police Detective Anthony Cortazzo should return to patrol work.
"Have him put his uniform on, and get back out on the street," Ferris said.
But Baldwin Mayor Alexander R. Bennett Jr., a former policeman, was visibly upset by Stelmasczyk's and Ferris' comments.
Bennett, who has called the borough "geographically, a mess," said on Tuesday, "To run this community with less than four officers on the road (at one time) is dangerous. There is not a product produced out of a police department. It's public safety that comes out of a police department."
The mayor was agreeing with Scott's assertion at a prior council meeting that four patrol officers—not a current total of three—are needed to cover the borough's four police zones—north Baldwin, south Baldwin, the Route 51 corridor and The Residences of South Hills apartments complex.
Bob Ieraci, a north Baldwin resident and a borough municipal volunteer, also spoke at Tuesday's public budget meeting regarding the officer topic.
"This is one thing that numbers have nothing to do with," Ieraci said, disagreeing with Stelmasczyk's suggestion that the police department must do a better job of presenting hard evidence to show that it is shorthanded and to show that it is being as productive as possible.
"Baldwin has an odd shape," Ieraci said. "They (observers) just have to be around (to understand)."
Moeller took serious issue with Stelmasczyk's "fiscally irresponsible" comment.
"It gets old, when, anytime somebody doesn't agree with you, that it's 'not responsible,'" Moeller told Stelmasczyk. "I guess, maybe, what needs to happen, is we need to be a council of one, and Mike makes all the decisions.
"For you to turn around and constantly call me irresponsible because of the way I vote, I take offense to that."
Conley's support also gives Collet an addition to the borough's road program that he has been seeking. Although Collet has asked for as much as a $150,000 addition to the already-budgeted $750,000 for endeavors like resurfacing, he scaled that back to a $50,000 request on Tuesday in light of the police officer decision.
Nevertheless, the 2013 budget now shows $800,000 allocated for the road program, up $50,000 from 2012.
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And check back with the Baldwin-Whitehall Patch on Thursday for more news from Tuesday night's Baldwin Council meetings. A regularly scheduled council meeting followed the special budget meeting.
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