Monday, April 29, 2019

Experts: Police weapons confusion incidents rare, but avoidable

Posted April 28, 2019

Bordentown NJ officer shows Taser holstered on chest
New Hope Cpl Matt Zimmerman had Taser holstered on same side as his service weapon
Two years before a Bay Area Rapid Transit officer in Oakland, California, mixed up his Taser and his service weapon, fatally shooting an unarmed suspect, the New Hope Police Department put in place a plan to prevent that kind of incident from happening in the small but popular tourist town.
The seven-page Taser policy dated Oct. 10, 2007, includes requirements that officers used only police-approved and issued holsters for the Taser X26, carry the device only on their weak-hand side with the safety on, and undergo a mandatory minimum four-hour recertification course annually.
These are the kind of guidelines that use-of-force experts say prevent the rare, but avoidable, phenomenon known as weapons confusion.
Since 2001, there have been 14 known incidents where U.S. law enforcement officers said they mistook their service weapon for their stun gun and fired on a suspect, including the one that occurred in a New Hope Police Department holding cell last month, where a 33-year police veteran seriously injured a 38-year-old Pipersville man in custody. The man in that case lived. In three of the 15 cases nationwide, the suspects did not.
In all but four cases, including that of former New Hope Cpl. Matt Zimmerman, the officer was not charged with a crime.
While the Bucks County District Attorney’s Office ruled Zimmerman was excused, but not justified, in the March 3 shooting of Brian Riling, some experts found it troubling that Zimmerman and the other 10 New Hope police officers employed at the time of the shooting had not been recertified in Taser use. Zimmerman had not been recertified since 2008, according to police records obtained under a Pennsylvania Right to Know request. Annual retraining is considered critical in preventing Taser misuse, experts said.
Stun guns, also known as conducted energy devices and most widely known as the brand name Taser, shoot barbs that send an electric current through the body, temporarily incapacitating the nervous system. They are considered the next-to-last weapon used before deadly force, which has made them a popular tool for law enforcement over the last 30 years.
They are controversial as well, particularly with concerns involving their inappropriate use and potential for injuries and death. It’s the reason police use-of-force and other criminal justice experts believe it is critical that departments ensure officers are regularly retrained and recertified. Following protocols with the device is critical too, they said, especially for officers whose initial police training didn’t include Taser use.
“Police often go to Tasers when they can’t think of another way out of a situation and or when they want to get out of a situation more quickly than talking to a person,” said Matt Stroud, a Pittsburgh journalist who has written a book on the failure of high-tech policing.
New Hope borough and police officials have not commented on the shooting since the April 12 determination excusing it was released, citing the advice of lawyers. Questions involving the shooting and department policy and discipline were referred to Montgomery County attorney Christopher Boyle, who also declined to answer questions. The borough denied a Right to Know request from this news organization seeking a copy of the district attorney’s determination letter and report. Zimmerman, 65, who was placed on paid leave after the shooting, retired on April 10.
Muscle memory
A 12-minute uncut surveillance video of the shooting shows Zimmerman holstered his Taser on the same side as his service weapon, which goes against department policy requiring officers to wear the Taser on their non-dominant side. While Zimmerman shouted “Taser!” before firing, as department policy requires, he appeared to be standing next to Riling when he fired the shot, far closer than the minimum 3-foot distance specified in the department policy.
Avoiding such lapses in policy is the reason why mandatory recertification and refresher training is necessary, use-of-force experts said.
Most Taser confusion incidents are attributed to officers holstering a stun gun on the same side as their service weapon, according to David Klinger, a former police officer in Los Angeles and Redmond, Washington, and an expert in deadly force. It’s the reason why law enforcement agencies started changing their weapon policies requiring a weak-arm draw for Taser use after the transit shooting in 2009.
But there are other contributing factors, including the type and frequency of Taser training, according to Greg Meyer, a certified force science analyst, former head of the Los Angeles Police Department training academy and a retired LAPD captain.
As part of their academy training, police officers are constantly drilled to draw their side arm without consciously thinking about each step whenever they see a threat. Under the time pressure to address a perceived threat, an officer may unconsciously rely on muscle memory and reach for the firearm because it’s the movement they have rehearsed the most, Meyer, Klinger and other experts said.
The best way to change that learned behavior is including stress-inducting scenarios as part of Taser training so officers are forced to make split-second decisions the same way they do with firearms recertification, Meyer said.
“Regardless of the age or experience of an officer, it is essential that they are properly trained on the equipment they carry, and not be allowed to carry it in an unauthorized manner,” Meyer added.
More oversight, fewer problems
New Jersey was the last state to approve law enforcement use of stun guns in 2012. Unlike Pennsylvania, the devices are highly regulated by the state.
New Jersey officer in Taser training
“New Jersey took the lessons of every other state and incorporated its concerns into the policy,” said Philip Aronow, first assistant prosecutor in the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office, which is responsible for initial training and oversight of Taser use among law enforcement in the county.

As a New Jersey assistant attorney general, Aronow helped oversee the implementation of the statewide law enforcement Taser initiative, which created standards and protocols for their use.
Among the requirements are completion of a two-day certification course with annual recertification and training. Officers also must holster the Taser on their weak-hand draw side, the device must have a built-in camera, and officers must complete a mandatory training in de-escalation techniques with individuals with special needs and mental health issues and take a refresher course every five years.
As of December, 383 officers in 22 of the 32 municipal police departments in Burlington County had been certified in Taser use, according to prosecutor’s office spokesman Joel Bewley. The state police handle training, certification and review internally.
In New Jersey, whenever a municipal police officer deploys a Taser, the department must notify the county prosecutor’s office, which initiates a state-mandated review of the incident to make sure it complies with state policy and make a recommendation to the prosecutor if criminal charges are warranted, said Burlington County Assistant Prosecutor Tad Drummond, who also oversees the county’s Special Investigations Unit, which handles police-involved Taser reviews.
If there are no policy violations, the county report is then forwarded to the state attorney general’s office for a second review.
Pennsylvania has no such county or state review process for Taser use; rather individual police departments set their own incident review policy.
According to New Hope’s policy, officers are required to report each time a Taser is drawn, even if it’s not discharged, to the department’s sergeant. The sergeant is responsible for notifying the police chief and ensuring the officer involved completes a Taser usage form, which is then attached to the incident report and forwarded to the police chief and the certified Taser trainer.
It’s unknown how many times a Taser has been drawn by police in New Hope; this news organization has a pending Right to Know request for that information.
In Burlington County, New Jersey, municipal police deployed Tasers during police calls only four times last year. That’s one less deployment than in 2017 and three less than 2016. There are no documented incidents where an officer confused a Taser with a firearm, Bewley added.
According to Drummond, the prosecutor’s office has not seen any major problems or misuse of the weapons among municipal police. The only identified issue has involved officers not capturing as much video because of the way they hold the devices, which can be addressed in annual training, he added.
The prosecutors believe the mandatory oversight and thoroughness of the review process drills into police departments that Taser use is not a substitute for less-lethal force options.
Bordentown Police wear their Tasers holstered to chest
Bordentown Township, New Jersey, police Chief Brian Pesce made it a priority to have his 30 officers certified in Taser use after he took over the department last year. He met that goal in January; the department’s firearms instructor also obtained his certification as a Taser instructor and will lead future requalification training and testing, Pesce said.
The department plans to incorporate the annual Taser training into one of the four range dates it schedules for firearms recertification, Pesce said. The chief added that he believes training is critical with CEDs; it’s why he picked a plan with unlimited training cartridges and a training simulation suit for the department, which will allow officers to keep their skills sharp.
“It’s very important we make a pointed effort to train with all our tools. You have to remain proficient in your devices,” Pesce said. “If we have to deploy these devices, we want to make sure we do it effectively.”
Pesce also believes he has found a sure way to avoid the problem of weapon confusion: His department uses only canary yellow-colored Tasers. He also recently made a change with the department uniforms, so Tasers are holstered on the front of an officer’s external bulletproof vest, not the gun belt.
“I’m confident with the placement of our devices that we wouldn’t have a situation like that,” he said.

Going ... going ... Clairemont is sold

Posted April 28, 2019

Auctioneer Mark Henderson stood on the brick stairs leading into what was once considered a more than $1 million mansion to deliver a warning to the 50 or so people gathered outside in the driveway on Saturday morning.
This event was not for the faint of heart.
The bidding would start in the six figures. What you see is what you get. The next door neighbor wants a 6-foot section of fence moved that the former owner built on his property. A 10-percent premium will be added to the winning bid.
And all sales are final.
Welcome to Clairemont. The once stately home on Stony Hill Road that became the centerpiece in the multimillion fraud case against former owner and Bucks County socialite and GOP political donor Claire Risoldi. Now, the 71-year-old Risoldi is awaiting sentencing next month after being found guilty for filing $13 million in false insurance claims following a fire at Clairemont. She is currently serving a 30-day jail sentence for a 2016 contempt of court finding related to witness intimidation.
Auction crowd gathers outside Clairemont 
Her son, Carl, who was also charged in the fraud scheme, was forced to forfeit ownership of Clairemont to fulfill a restitution order, part of a plea bargain he made after his mother’s conviction that reduced his charges to two misdemeanors and no jail time. The estate sold for $750,000, and the proceeds will go toward that restitution.
“If you like an adventure and a challenge, I got it all here,” said Henderson, founder and lead auctioneer of Auction World USA, the Florida-based auction house organizing the much-anticipated sale of what has become one of Bucks County’s most recognized pieces of real estate.
Claire Risoldi purchased the six-bedroom, five-and-a-half bath home on 10 acres with her late first husband, Carl P. Risoldi, and they hosted prominent social events and county Republican fundraisers there. Built in 1989, the Risoldis bought it for $900,000. Its estimated market value today is $1.3 million, according to the county board of assessment.
Those values were based on a home in move-in condition. That description hasn’t applied to Clairemont since Oct. 22, 2013, when a fire heavily damaged the home.
Auctioneer Mark Henderson and his gavel
That didn’t seem to matter to the people gathered in the circular driveway of the home Saturday. Most were contractors, builders or Realtors who were there for anonymous bidders.
The auction got off to a slow start.
Henderson started the bidding at $850,000, $100,000 over the recommended opening bid. To sweeten the deal, the current owners, The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office, agreed to throw in any items left in the house. That included scorched antique paintings, piles of artificial flowers and Christmas decorations, a pair of marble toilet seats and 5-foot-high wall safe.
No takers.
$800,000, $750,000, $700,000.
Still no takers.
“It works so much better when someone raises their hand,” Henderson chided.
$600,000 ... $550,000 ... $500,000.
No takers.
“How many people think $400,000 would be a good buy, anybody? A show of hands, anybody?” Henderson said.
“With that thought in mind, who will give me $400,000? Henderson said. “Let’s have an auction.”
A hand shot up.
“Yes, $400,000,” Henderson said. “See, it didn’t hurt a bit.”
From there the bids bounced around the crowd like a beach ball.
“Got 700, looking for 725,” Henderson said. “The decision is here. The decision is now. When the gavel drops, the auction will be over.”
“725 ... 750, sir ... 775, anybody else? 775 ... 775 ... 775 ... 775 ... 775 ... all done?”
The $750,000 bid was offered by man standing in the front row who said he was a contractor acting as an agent for a potential buyer. The contractor didn’t give his name or the buyer’s. He also didn’t hint what the plans for the property would be.
Unidentified contractor with winning bid
But before banging the gavel, Henderson had to speak to a Pennsylvania Attorney General representative, who had final say. Would it be a deal or no deal?
Moments later, Henderson returned to his spot on the brick stairs.
“They said, ‘Mark, sell it.’”
I got a 750 bid, anybody else? 775 going once. 775 going twice. 775 third and final time.
Sold for $750,000.

Centerpiece of Risoldi insurance fraud case up for auction Saturday

Posted April 23, 2019

To the Risoldi family, it was the symbol of the finer things in life that come with great influence and wealth.
To the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office, it was a centerpiece of greed, narcissism and fraud.
To neighbor Charlotte Sanders, the six-bedroom, 5½-bath home rumored to be modeled after the New Jersey governor’s mansion was “a bit gaudy.”
The two-story white mansion, with its Greek columns and wraparound porch set behind a brick and black metal gate, stood out along the rural two-lane Stony Hill Road in Buckingham on Saturday afternoon.
But it wasn’t the oval-shaped sign trimmed in gold against a black background announcing the address that caught the eye.
It was the smaller, plastic signs with red background planted outside the fence line. The ones with white block-style letters that spelled out “AUCTION” and pointed toward Clairemont, the former estate of its namesake, Buckingham socialite turned convicted felon Claire Risoldi.
The mansion and its surrounding 10 acres are scheduled to be sold to the highest bidder Saturday, with the proceeds used as restitution to the insurance company she was convicted of fleecing.
Risoldi, 71, currently is serving a 30-day jail sentence for a 2016 contempt of court finding. Next month, she is scheduled to be sentenced for filing $13 million in false insurance claims following a 2013 fire at Clairemont.
Her son, Carl A. Risoldi, and his sister, Carla Risoldi, surrendered the property to the state under a plea agreement that allowed Carl, who also was accused of insurance fraud in the 2013 fire, to plead guilty to misdemeanor theft and attempted theft charges and avoid jail.
The Florida auction house handling the sale anticipates it will be one of their most unique. At the only open house over the weekend, dozens of potential buyers toured the grounds.
Some visitors, such as Sanders, were there strictly out of curiosity. Was the inside as over-the-top as the stories they heard during the four years the case lingered in the court system?
Most left disappointed.
Clairemont has never recovered from the 2013 fire. The house was largely stripped down to its wood skeleton. Only a few fleeting signs of its former glory remained.
Two ornately carved wooden door frames surrounded hand-painted scenes depicting 18th and 19th century country life. Random scroll relief work was stamped in plasterboard and carved into fireplace mantles. The wrap-around mahogany wood staircase and banister appeared unscathed. So did a carved, arched window frame atop the stair landing. Aside from burned debris in its drain, a shower stall with gold fixtures in a second-floor bath appeared ready to use.
While damaged, the infamous center hall ceiling mural depicting the Risoldi family as Roman soldiers and royalty amid cherubs, stallions and clouds still is as clear as the blue sky background.
“Look, they are looking down on us smiling,” one man said.
Few people climbed a metal ladder that provided the only access point to the attic, where the 2013 fire started. While the causes of that fire and two before it were ruled undetermined, some visitors Saturday expressed lingering skepticism.
“The property is gorgeous,” one woman said. “Put up something more in keeping with Bucks County and that doesn’t burn so easily.”
Inside a detached garage, at least a dozen scorched and singed paintings leaned three and four deep against walls, some with unblemished “Best of France Antiques” tags still attached. Pieces of furniture were stacked near two disassembled Eiffel Tower models, and a cardboard box containing diet supplements.
“Is there a Rembrandt out there?” one man asked his wife.
No, she replied. But she found a few marble toilet seats.
In the basement was a shelf half filled with abandoned toys, a baby stroller, Windsor back kitchen chairs, a pet carrier and a pair of Rosary beads hung on a metal baker’s rack, with “Pray for Us” written on the back.
Richard North, who said he was a Realtor scouting the property for a client, estimated it would cost $1.6 million to renovate the home. Black mold growing behind the white siding and foam insulation has to be removed professionally, he said. A severely damaged roof hidden under white tarps has to be removed and replaced, he said.
The cheapest option for the new owner would be to tear down the house and start over. He estimated the demolition cost at $100,000.
Those costs, he added, are in addition to whatever the buyer spends to purchase the property, which could make profit margins super thin.
“We’ll get a lot of people who come out, but it will be mostly voyeurs,” North predicted. He guessed no more than six people would bid.
The property has generated interest among local real estate agents, according to Mark Henderson, the founder and lead auctioneer for Auction World USA, which is contracted with the state to sell the property. Eight area real estate brokers have arranged private tours, he said.
In his 40 years in business, Henderson has sold million-dollar celebrity-owned homes and penthouses, along with Housing and Urban Development and bank-owned properties. In the Philadelphia area alone he has sold 385 properties over the last three years, he said.
But Clairemont represents what he called a new kind of sale.
Claire Risoldi and her first husband, Carl P. Risoldi, bought the house for $900,000 in June 2000, according to county property records. Claire sold it to her children for $1 in December 2004.
The Bucks County Board of Assessment lists the market value of the property at $1.3 million.
The online real estate marketplace estimates the property is worth $1.6 million, but that is in move-in condition, Henderson said.
How much the property will sell for is a wild card, Henderson added.
The recommended opening bid for Clairemont is $700,000, he said. But it could sell for less. Or more.
“That is the part that is really, really interesting,” Henderson said. “It’s going be fascinating sale. It’s a wonderful property but it obviously takes a very specialized buyer. The short story is it probably would require someone with deep pockets.”

Child advocates urge more accountablity following Grace Packer case

Posted April 21, 2019
Child welfare advocates are welcoming an independent investigation by a state watchdog agency into the decisions county child welfare agencies made that resulted in the repeated victimization of 14-year-old Grace Packer before her 2016 murder.
Grace Packer
The Office of State Inspector General’s involvement comes weeks after the release of twin state and county reports that chronicled public and private child welfare agencies’ interactions with Grace starting when she was 6 months old. The reports were completed last year, but remained sealed until after the sentencing last month of her mother, Sara Packer, 44, and her mother’s boyfriend Jacob Sullivan, 46, who each pleaded guilty to planning and carrying out the rape, murder and dismemberment of the girl.
Child advocates have criticized the heavily redacted reports as being nearly unreadable, written by people with a vested interest in protecting the system, and promoting recommendations for change that aren’t new.
“Accountability and transparency are essential to improve the practice of all of us in the child welfare system,” said Frank Cervone, an attorney and executive director of the Support Center for Child Advocates in Philadelphia. “It remains an absurd statement to suggest no laws or regulations were violated, when there were significant compromises in that child’s right to due process and safety.”
According to the death reviews, county child welfare agencies received reports suggesting Grace was sexually, emotionally and physically abused in the home of Sara and David Packer, years before David Packer was arrested and convicted of sexually assaulting Grace and another underage foster child. Grace and her younger brother were placed with the Packers in 2004 and adopted by them in 2007.
Even after the state revoked the Packers’ foster child credentials in 2010, after David Packer went to jail, Sara Packer, a former child welfare worker, regained and kept custody of Grace and her brother despite being named as an indicated perpetrator of child abuse, and Lehigh County child welfare workers had knowledge that Sara Packer admitted to engaging in a sexual relationship with an 18-year-old foster child in her custody.
Advocates are hopeful the inspector general will provide more clear, unredacted information about the weaknesses within the system, which is something they complain the mandated death reviews typically don’t do.
Without the ability to follow the narrative of Grace’s life and its intersection with the child welfare system, it’s impossible to accurately assess the decision-making process in any useful context, said Cathleen Palm, founder and executive director of the Center for Children’s Justice in Berks County. Heavy redaction means policymakers and others reading it are forced to make “a lot of assumptions,” which could lead to a significant misunderstanding and misdirected policy decisions or legislation, she added.
“To date, all reviews have lacked independence, protected adults while further victimizing Grace and other youth, and in no way have given the public reason to have confidence in the systems we pay to protect children,” Palm added. “Grace is definitely a face of the reality of what can happen when the child welfare system is overwhelmed and not following the regulations and best practices that are already out there.”
The near exclusive involvement of private and public child welfare employees and officials on county and state review teams is essentially seen as the system investigating itself, said Richard Wexler, executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform.
“That is exactly what happened here, and that explains the seeming contradiction of a document that appears to criticize and exonerate agencies at the same time,” Wexler said. “The recommendations themselves usually amount to little more than the equivalent of cutting and pasting from some manual somewhere about best practices.”
Haven Evans, director of training for the Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance, which provides child abuse education and training, called the Department of Human Services and county-level recommendations in the Packer reviews thorough, but also repetitive.
“What I was left thinking was, ‘What are the next steps? How is this information moving forward going to be clearly explained to those working in the child welfare system and those working on cases?’” Evans said. “I kind of wish DHS would have taken their responses a step further. It’s not enough to say, ‘This is already best practices.’ It’s not enough to say, ‘This is already regulation.’”
Evans suggested DHS immediately issue a special bulletin to county child welfare agencies reviewing existing regulations and best practices that are expected to be followed when reviewing cases, while the momentum from the Packer case is still fresh in people’s memories.
In an interview before the inspector general’s announcement, Amy Grippi, the chief of staff for the DHS Office of Children, Youth and Families, said the department began implementing improvements the reports recommended before they were released to the public. She did not know if any county-level employees were disciplined as a result of mistakes the report pointed out, since the state is not notified or involved in county-level disciplinary actions.
“The bottom line is county child welfare workers and the regional office have one of the most difficult jobs known to man. These cases are difficult because hindsight is 20/20,” Grippi said. “At the time of assessment it is critical there is teaming, information sharing. ... Without those components it becomes even more difficult to do your job.”
Improving collaboration, communication and information-sharing among county child welfare agencies are key recommendations in the reports, but one that current state law makes difficult to undertake, Grippi said. Under current law, abuse reports and investigations that are unfounded or unsubstantiated must be destroyed within a year and 120 days after a case is closed.
The mandatory record expungement means a county agency may not have records of previous reports that could provide necessary context when assessing a case, Grippi said. Both the state and county reports noted the review teams could not obtain some expunged records involving Grace Packer that would have been useful in its review and determining the appropriateness of agency investigations.
Extending the expungement time frames for child welfare agencies would provide access to critical information needed for risk assessments, but extending unfounded record retention would require change to existing law, Grippi said.
DHS officials have undertaken a “massive effort” in recent years to refine how they redact information in death and near death reviews, so they remove only what is required under the federal health care privacy law and the state Child Protective Services Law, Grippi said. She also acknowledged criticism that redaction makes reading the documents difficult.
“I will admit that sometimes makes it a challenge to go through and understand what happened,” Grippi added.

Residents decry Lower Southampton supervisors’ attempts to replace zoning officer

Posted April 15, 2019
The mystery surrounding a decision to replace Lower Southampton’s zoning officer less than a year after he assumed the job does not appear to be going away, after a dozen residents vented recently to supervisors demanding answers.
William Oettinger
Audience members at a township meeting last week applauded each of the dozen speakers who praised William Oettinger, who is also the township’s fire marshal, who they said has made great headway revamping what has been described as a disorganized department that records show failed to properly charge fees and escrow amounts according to the township’s fee schedule.
Residents also expressed frustration at the board’s lack of transparency about what prompted the proposed return to separate zoning officer and fire marshal positions.
“We finally had a light and you want to put it out,” said Marge McCurdy, a meeting regular. “You should all be ashamed of yourselves.”
Supervisors, acting on the advice of the township solicitor, declined to reveal the reason behind their decision last month to advertise for a new zoning official, less than a year after the board unanimously appointed Oettinger to the newly combined job.
Oettinger has claimed he was not aware the board was considering a return to separate zoning and fire marshal positions.
Oettinger did not speak at Wednesday’s meeting, the first since the board voted 5-0 to advertise for a new zoning and code enforcement officer following an hour-long executive session involving an undisclosed personnel issue.
Board members have only said publicly their decision was based on a concern that Oettinger was overworked. He would keep his job as full-time fire marshal.
But residents remained skeptical and questioned why the board would want to change zoning officers, especially while there are ongoing state and district attorney investigations into the past practices of the office under the previous longtime department head Carol Drioli, who retired last year.
“It is pretty crazy on your part. He is straightening out the problems,” resident Scott Marshall told the board. “It was very disheartening to hear this. To me it seems like he’s doing too good of a job. He’s ruffling feathers.”
Resident Alex Gilchrist told the board that Oettinger went beyond his responsibilities to help his family after a fire destroyed their home and they began the rebuilding process.
“The man has brought decency and integrity back to that office,” Gilchrist said. “It is a mistake to let this man go.”
David Dibelius, who called Oettinger a “good public servant,” asked township Solicitor Francis Dillon if Oettinger had any disciplinary issues since he assumed the zoning officer position.
“The board owes us an explanation if its investigating Mr. Oettinger,” Dibelius added.
But Dillon responded that he would not comment on personnel-related issues and neither would the board or Oettinger.
“You may not like it, but that is the answer,” Dillon added.
Supervisor Kim Koutsouradis, though, who expressed regrets about his vote, said the board learned new information after the vote that should have been discussed beforehand. He expressed support for Oettinger, noting he was doing a “great job” despite encountering an on-the-job learning curve.
Koutsouradis also requested the board meet in executive session at the end of the meeting to discuss the new information; the board adjourned to meet for a half hour and returned without taking any action.
The Pennsylvania Sunshine Act does not bar elected officials from discussing what happens during an executive session, including personnel matters, according to Melissa Melewsky, a media attorney and Open Records Act expert for the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association. She added the employee being discussed can request the discussion take place in a public meeting.
“It is also worth noting that the Sunshine Act does not require personnel executive sessions, it allows them. But it does not impose confidentiality,” Melewsky said. “I would argue that it is incumbent on elected officials to talk about alleged violations because they are in the best position to expose wrongdoing.”
Supervisors voted unanimously July 11, 2018, to appoint Oettinger as zoning officer/code enforcement officer/fire marshal with a $12,500 salary increase.
At that 2018 meeting, then-board Chairman Keith Wesley noted that “many area townships have their zoning and emergency services combined including Upper Southampton, Bristol and Buckingham,” according to a copy of themeeting minutes.
Statewide, 281 individuals hold dual certifications as fire marshal and building code official, including 34 in Bucks and eastern Montgomery counties, according to the state Department of Labor and Industry website.
On Wednesday night, though, Wesley told residents that during a visit last year as part of its investigation, the state Department of Labor and Industry recommended the township have a dedicated stand-alone zoning officer.
The state agency has not publicly released information about its findings.