Village meeting sees debate over police chief selection process

WELLSVILLE – The vacancy in the chief’s office at the Wellsville Police Department will remain following Tuesday evening’s council meeting. As had been suggested earlier in the week by village Mayor Susan Haugh, she did not bring a nominee’s name before council.

The process of appointing a new chief still became the core topic of discussion at the meeting, however.

During the public speaking portion of the meeting, Mike Varish of 10th Street addressed numerous questions to council about the selection process for chief of police, starting with how council might go about repealing the ordinance that grants the mayor power to appoint a chief.

Haugh replied that that authority comes from the Ohio Revised Code (ORC) and is a state law, not a village ordinance. Councilwoman Diane Dinch added that the law in question could only be changed at the state level.

Varish also challenged the authority of Haugh as “somebody who has two years of experience in Wellsville civic affairs” to appoint a police chief who could serve in the office for decades. (Haugh was elected mayor in 2012, though she also served on council for two years prior to that.)

Following the exchange, in which Dinch explained the legal distinctions to Varish, Haugh stated that she was “quite offended” by suggestions that she lacked sufficient experience to make the appointment. “I assure you, I am following the law to the T, whether I have two years’ experience or twenty years’ experience,” she said.

Varish then criticized Haugh about considering candidates from outside of Wellsville, saying he wants the search to “stay in the village.” Haugh, growing angered by the accusations, answered what she called the rumor that officer Mike Harty had been brought into the department with the intention of him being named the next police chief.

“That is not true. That is a lie,” she said.

Haugh also denied other personal rumors she says she has heard about Harty. “These rumors are ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous,” she said.

After being given additional time by council to speak, Varish stated that the late Chief Joe Scarabino had told members of his family that he wanted police Lt. Ed Wilson “to have his shot as chief.” He spoke in favor of his appointment, saying Wilson had stayed with the department for 30 years rather than going for a job in another town. “I think loyalty should be rewarded,” Varish said.

Haugh said the village had looked outside its borders during the search for a previous police chief, David Long. She stated that the final two candidates at that time came down to Long and a person from outside Wellsville, though in the end Long was chosen, “not because he was the lieutenant, but because he was more qualified.”

When asked if she didn’t think that Wilson was the qualified candidate, Haugh admitted that one of her three finalists for the post was, in fact, Lt. Wilson and said she was annoyed because, “Everyone believes that I threw him out months ago.”

Ed Wilson Jr., the son of Ed Wilson, then addressed the mayor, asking about her qualifications to make such a decision, particularly in light of his father’s 30 years of police experience. Haugh returned to the ORC, replying that she has the authority granted to her by state law, as well as the police policy and procedures manual. “Those books are there for a reason,” she said. “If I stay on track there, everything will work out.”

Ed Wilson Jr. also stated his belief that Haugh has a personal dislike for Wilson, which is clouding her decision. “I truly feel it’s personal,” he said, and recommended that she recuse herself from the appointment process.

The mayor admitted that she and Wilson have had disagreements and even arguments, but denied any animosity toward him. “I don’t have any problem with your father,” Haugh replied. “We have been friends for years and years and years.”