Opinion Piece ~ January 29, 2019
Whatever your opinion might be on the current media spectacle in our police department, one thing is certain — some members of McCandless Town Council are making a mockery of this great community.
Our elected officials have a fiduciary duty to act in the best interest of this town, and they are failing in epic fashion. Instead of acting in the best interest of McCandless, what we have witnessed to this point is nothing but a group of people who have drawn a line in the sand according to party lines. Some members of Access McCandless have repeatedly criticized me as a biased conservative, although I have repeatedly called out buffoonery on both sides of the aisle. This article is proof that once again I have broken with my “party” on this issue.
In the case of Lt. Basl, six members of our council were steadfast in their opinion that the Lieutenant should be demoted or severely punished for sexual harassment complaints. Because this issue involved the police union, a consensus (unanimous) decision had to be reached. The lone holdout was none other than Councilman Steve Mertz, a high school friend of Lt. Basl. Instead of doing what was best for the town, Mertz reportedly refused any punishment other than a suspension and return to duty. A return, mind you, that puts Lt. Basl right back where he was as supervisor of the officer who made the allegations of harassment.
The issue of Chief DiSanti is a bit more complex. I happen to know the man personally, and have always found him to be a person of good character. I was fully in support of the Chief until his officers gave a vote of “no confidence” in his leadership, which resulted in a 180 degree turnabout for me. I do not know if the Chief engaged in any kind of harassment. To me, this would seem to be out of character. But consider this – the entire debacle and harassment issue happened on his watch and it is ultimately his responsibility. He is the Chief of Police and he is accountable for everything that happens in the Department. That alone is cause for concern. Republican council members are squarely in the Chief’s corner, and have also dug in their heels in defending him.
Instead of doing what is best for the community and abiding by their duty, our council has become a partisan circus. This is not an issue of democrat vs. republican. This is an issue of right versus wrong.
Apparently, in the vast wasteland of the mind of Steve Mertz, it’s okay for Lt. Basl to get a slap on the wrist for his behavior, but he wants to go after the chief with venom. This is a textbook example of political corruption.
On the other hand, we have Councilman Bill Kirk quoted in the Post-Gazette indicating that they didn’t even take the no confidence vote from our police officers into consideration when voting on the situation with Chief DiSanti. The republican side has apparently now dug in their heels to protect their friend as well. This is completely demoralizing to our police department. For the record, the apparent “keep the chief” votes are coming from Councilpersons Powers, McKim, Kirk and Walkauskas. Councilpersons Zachary, Schweiger and Mertz are in favor of bringing in a new Chief of Police.
At last night’s council meeting, Councilwoman Carolyn Schweiger’s father made a public comment that made my jaw drop the floor, as well as many others in the room. I don’t often (ever) agree with Mr. Schweiger, but I do respect the man. He has had a long and successful career and is an upstanding man. Last night he detailed how someone affiliated with the Chief contacted him to ask if he could try to sway his daughter’s council vote to support the Chief. Unbelievable.
Another officer in the department was also reprimanded for fetching files from the Chief’s office and delivering them to his home. Calls were also allegedly placed to police commanders in the City of Pittsburgh in an attempt to dig up dirt on members of the McCandless police force.
Did Chief DiSanti engage in sexual harassment? The jury is out for me on that. However, other behaviors in which he has engaged are equally as troubling.
In all of this nonsensical back and forth partisan hackery, we seem to have forgotten one thing: our female officer. I am not a #metoo person, but the person who has suffered through this entire controversy is still on our police force. Imagine if this was your daughter, your wife or your mother. This woman was placed back on duty ON THE SAME SHIFT as the man she accused of harassment and is evidently still her supervisor. Which mensa candidate decided that this was a good idea?
What is wrong with our town council? You would think, at least at a local level, we could work together to come up with a solution to this issue without the blatantly obvious corruption that goes along with defending your friends. All of these ‘officials” need to look in the mirror and conduct a personal inventory of their behavior. This is not Brett Kavanagh 2.0. There are witnesses and sworn affidavits.
Do what is right for the town, not your friends. Believe me, we will remember this when the time comes to vote.