Council opts not to vote on surprise chief nomination

WELLSVILLE – Originally scheduled as a committee meeting during last week’s regular council meeting, the full Wellsville Council met again on Tuesday afternoon in special session to handle finance committee business, as well as to address personnel issues.

Those issues, centering around the hiring of a new chief for the Wellsville Police Department, quickly came to a head.

After council handled the business of a previously-disputed invoice payment, personnel committee Chairman Randy Allmon called for an executive session, including Mayor Susan Haugh, to discuss the hiring of personnel.

A warning of what was to follow came when an attendee asked the departing council members if any action would be taken following their return to regular session. Allmon answered, “No, I doubt it,” to which Haugh added, “We don’t know.”

“We’ll know when we come back out,” Tony Cataldo said.

When council members reconvened approximately 30 minutes later, Haugh read from a prepared statement, conceding the controversy that has surrounded the process. “Some of my decisions may not be popular with everyone, but I assure council and the residents of Wellsville, I do not make them based on threats or intimidation, nor do I make them based on friendships. I make my decisions based on facts,” she said.

Haugh then proceeded to nominate Wellsville Officer Mike Harty for the job of police chief, citing his 31 years with the Atlanta Police Department and experience with the “big-city crime” that the village has faced in recent years. She listed Harty’s credentials, including a Bachelor of Science in criminal justice from Troy State University in Alabama, and being named Officer of the Month and Officer of the Year while with the Atlanta PD.

Haugh says Harty has been credited with 32 indictments since being named to the county Drug Task Force in 2013, with an additional 12 pending in the village. “His fellow agents and supervisors all speak very highly of him,” she said. “There is no question as to what an asset Michael Harty has been to our small and needful village.”

Haugh ended her nomination by urging council to not reject her appointment without “good cause,” which she defined as, “a legal term, meaning adequate or substantial grounds or reason to take a certain action, or to fail to take an action prescribed by law.”

After several moments of silence, Councilwoman Diane Dinch moved to adjourn the meeting, seconded by Nancy Murray and approved unanimously.

When talk ensued among attendees about what had transpired, Cataldo returned to chambers and stated that council members had been caught off guard by the nomination. “The special meeting was called for personnel and sewer bills – that’s it,” he said. “Council didn’t know there was going to be a hiring,” he said. When asked by a resident when a vote would be taken, he replied, “When council decides to vote at the appropriate time.”

Allmon later said he had been “shocked” by Haugh making an appointment at the meeting and explained that since no council members moved and seconded to vote on the appointment, there was no requirement for council to vote on it, hence the quick adjournment.

Allmon added that he had been trying to “mend fences” during the executive session, but was pessimistic about any common ground being reached. “I don’t see any resolution in sight,” he said.

Haugh admitted that when she originally called the meeting on Monday morning, it was only to include a vote on the invoice and a personnel discussion, not the presentation of a nominee. “I made up my mind yesterday that I was going to do it,” she said.

Haugh declined to elaborate on the “threats and intimidation” mentioned during her statement, but said she stood by her nomination of Harty and said her next step will be to “make a recommendation at the next council meeting, since they chose not to vote.”