PENNSYLVANIA'S #1 WEEKLY NEWSPAPER • locally owned since 1854

Council wants to replace police chief with public safety director; effort to remove Morris fails

By Dan Miller

danmiller@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 11/20/19

Middletown Borough Council is looking to replace the position of police chief with a public safety director.

Council voted 5-0 at the end of its Tuesday meeting to pursue filling this new …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Council wants to replace police chief with public safety director; effort to remove Morris fails

Posted

Middletown Borough Council is looking to replace the position of police chief with a public safety director.

Council voted 5-0 at the end of its Nov. 19 meeting to pursue filling this new position, while a push to remove Sgt. Dennis Morris from the interim police chief position failed without a vote being taken.

The call to remove Morris was based on the results of two internal investigations and was supported by the advice of the borough solicitor, Mayor James H. Curry III said during the meeting.

Curry did not make public further details regarding the investigations into Morris. He referred during the meeting to council having discussed the situation involving Morris during “several” previous closed-door executive sessions.

“I find that lack of action very disheartening and disappointing,” Curry said, referring to no one on council being willing to second council member Richard Kluskewicz’s motion on Morris so it could be brought to a vote.

Curry after the meeting only said that he “disagreed with the lack of action.” The Press & Journal was unable to obtain further comment.

Both discussions occurred after a closed-door session by council.

It is not clear why the public safety director position was proposed. Kluskiewicz — who made the motion to create the position — would not provide any comment when asked at the end of the meeting.

It is also not clear exactly what the job would entail. Borough Manager Ken Klinepeter told the Press & Journal in an email Wednesday that the chief position and public safety director position are essentially the same, so if council hires a public safety director, it wouldn’t make sense to have a chief.

The funds are in the 2020 budget to pay for one position or the other, Klinepeter added.

Morris’s time as chief

Morris has been interim chief since Aug. 21, 2018, when Curry appointed him to the position the same day that borough Police Chief George Mouchette was charged in Dauphin County Court with aggravated indecent assault without consent, criminal attempt-rape forcible compulsion, and unlawful restraint/serious bodily injury.

Morris, reached by phone by the Press & Journal, declined comment when asked about the failed motion to remove him.

Speculation that Morris was not happy being interim chief was fueled by Curry in August, when the mayor claimed Morris had asked to be removed from the position “countless times.”

However, the police union — the Middletown Borough Police Officers Association — said in an Aug. 6 post on its Facebook page that Morris had sent a letter to Curry and to council, saying he would “gladly continue” in the interim chief role until a full-time chief could be found, according to the association post.

At the time, Curry was in discussions with Steelton Police Chief Anthony Minium about Minium serving as acting interim chief in Middletown on a trial basis for 120 days.

Minium chose to withdraw as a candidate after consulting with Steelton Mayor Maria Marcinko.

Job description

Council’s vote to solicit candidates is conditioned on the borough receiving from its solicitor a job description for the position.

That has not been created, nor does the borough have an employment agreement that would be needed in order to hire a public safety director, Klinepeter told the Press & Journal in an email.

Lloyd after the meeting told the Press & Journal that, in light of the borough not being able to hire a permanent chief due to uncertainty over what will happen with Mouchette, “this would be a different path to take the department by hiring a public safety administrator. However at this time we are not even sure what that’s going to entail because we are waiting to get the job description from the solicitor.”

Asked why council would not choose to wait until after Mouchette’s case is resolved, Lloyd said: “I think that from the motions that were made some feel it’s the best path to take. I don’t have a problem with that.”

Resolution of Mouchette

Mouchette is still a borough employee and still, officially, the permanent Middletown police chief, although he has been in a suspended without pay status since the charges were filed against him.

Mouchette was charged following an investigation by the Dauphin County District Attorney’s office into an incident that allegedly occurred in Mouchette’s office while the chief was in uniform in the borough police station at 300 E. Emaus St. on Aug. 13, 2018.

According to arrest papers filed by investigators with the DA’s Criminal Investigation Unit, Mouchette tried to rape a woman who had come to his office on Aug. 13 to meet with him for professional reasons.

The charges against Mouchette are pending.

His trial is scheduled for Feb. 10 in county court before Judge William T. Tully.

Lower Swatara position

While it remains to be seen what Middletown will look for in a public safety director, it is likely that the position will be similar to the public safety director position that had been held in Lower Swatara Township previously by Frank Williamson.

Williamson was public safety director in Lower Swatara from August 2016 until he resigned in May 2017 to become township manager. He served as manager for less than three months before resigning that position.

At the time, the public safety director position in Lower Swatara was a civilian managerial position responsible for the administrative and operational functions for the police department, liaison to the volunteer fire department and contracted EMS as well as the coordinator of all emergency preparedness functions for the township.

The township when it was looking to replace Williamson established as minimum requirements that candidates have strong law enforcement experience including previous certification as a police officer, and working knowledge of EMS, fire and emergency operations.

Williamson before becoming public safety director worked for 35 years in Lower Allen Township, including the last 16 as Lower Allen’s public safety director and police chief.

Williamson was paid $90,000 when hired by Lower Swatara in 2016 to serve as both public safety director and assistant township manager.

Mouchette’s salary was set at $96,000 when the Middletown council voted to make him the borough’s permanent police chief in August 2017. The borough has not been paying him that salary since he was placed in the suspended-without-pay status after being charged in August 2018.