Wellsville police chief debate grows chaotic at meeting

WELLSVILLE – As promised, Mayor Susan Haugh did not bring a selection for police chief before village council at its meeting on Tuesday evening. Nevertheless, the issue remained at the forefront of discussion, which at times descended into outburst and accusations during the proceedings.

Village resident Mike Varish of 10th Avenue again led off the public comment portion of the meeting, asking for permission to poll village council members – minus Tony Cataldo, who was absent and excused – for their feelings about having Wellsville Police Lt. Ed Wilson as the new police chief.

After granting their consent, every council member present but one stated that they would vote for Wilson if he were appointed by the mayor. The sole “no” vote came from Randy Allmon, who cited personal friction between Haugh and Wilson, saying, “There is no working relationship” between the two.

But for that, Allmon insisted, he would support Wilson becoming the new chief of police. Allmon volunteered that he would support Wellsville PD Officer Marsha Eisenhart for the position, to which Haugh interjected that Eisenhart isn’t qualified to hold the office and is not being considered.

Varish stated his main reason for so publicly supporting Wilson is so that the village has a police chief that Wellsville residents are familiar with, and vice-versa. “I want somebody that I know,” Varish said. Haugh agreed, but stated that her main concern, as well as council’s, was to hire the candidate with the best qualifications.

After Varish stated that he believed that Wilson was “worthy” of the position, Haugh directly addressed Wilson – who was seated in the audience – and asked him to stand in defense of his worthiness. In so doing, she accused Wilson of refusing to be interviewed for the job.

Wilson stated that he agreed to the interview, but was advised by his attorney to seek a continuance, which Wilson says Haugh refused to permit. Haugh denied refusing Wilson the continuance, resulting in an argumentative exchange between the two that was halted by Varish, saying he just wanted to know “where council stands.”

When Varish then asked the mayor if she supported Wilson, Haugh replied, “Absolutely not.” By way of an explanation why, she then asked Wellsville Officer Joseph Rayl – who was among the police officers in attendance – to speak about an alleged confrontation between himself and Wilson, which Rayl later complained to her about. Rayl immediately denied knowledge of any such incident. “I have no idea what you’re talking about,” he said.

When Haugh replied with exasperation over the denial, Rayl asked not to be drawn into the conflict.

“Oh, you’re in it,” she responded, and then gestured at the other police officers. “You’re all in it.”

As Varish continued his polling, Councilwoman Nancy Murray said her support for Wilson stemmed from her having seen none of the applicants’ information packets. Haugh interjected that Murray had never asked to see any of them.

“I will not put the citizens of this village in the hands of someone I do not know,” Murray said decisively. While arguing over who should have contacted whom about the candidates’ information packets, the tone suddenly grew more hostile with an accusation from the mayor.

“Did you tell anyone here that you’ve got the black vote sealed now that you’re supporting Ed?” Haugh asked Murray. At that, council chambers exploded with comments, including from Murray, who angrily denied the charge, and from Wilson, who is African-American, about the interjection of race into the discussion. “There’s no reason to go there,” Wilson shouted over the uproar.

Councilman Diane Dinch pounded on the desk in an effort to restore order, which soon returned.

With Varish finished commenting, Haugh recognized Beverly Hentzell of Riverside Avenue, who said the past three council meetings she attended had been filled with behavior that was “bullying, argumentative, not very professional and very shameful.”

Hentzell said Haugh is doing the job she was elected to, and then challenged council members to consider each of the eligible applicants before making a final decision. She added that the discord she’s witnessed at recent meetings has turned her pride for Wellsville into shame.

“All of this is unnecessary and childish,” Hentzell said. “Stop the bullying, stop the arguing and let them do their job,” she said to attendees, receiving some applause afterward.

In closing comments on the issue, Haugh said that the last few meetings have been very stressful for her and apologized if she had gotten carried away and offended anyone. “If I get emotional, if I get angry, I apologize to every one of you.”

Following a half-hour executive session called by Allmon, who chairs the personnel committee, council members returned to session, where Allmon said a personnel committee meeting had been tentatively scheduled for 1 p.m. next Tuesday, July 8.