By Jamie Wiggan
McKees Rocks Council approved tactical vest purchases for its code enforcer and building inspector and moved to eliminate public comment at caucus meetings during a May 11 meeting.
Chas Maritz, public safety chair, first presented the request for vest purchases during April’s meetings, where the matter was ultimately tabled.
Maritz said the code enforcement officers were increasingly running into dangerous situations and felt they needed more protection.
Council approved the motion by acclamation May 11, with Councilmember Sarah Harvey opposing. Councilwoman Liz Delgado was absent.
During the April discussions, council was also considering training the two officers to use firearms on the job, as an additional measure that was ultimately dropped the following month.
Interviewed after the meeting, Maritz said the committee decided against it after further consideration.
“It was just too expensive for the borough to cover the vests and the training,” he said. “[And] we don’t want borough employees handling firearms.”
Residents will no longer have the opportunity to provide public comment during council’s monthly caucus meeting, following a vote from council May 11.
Council approved the motion by acclamation, without discussion, following a presentation by Solicitor Megan Turnbull of Weiss, Burkardt, Kramer on council’s obligations under Pennsylvania’s open meeting laws.
The motion to eliminate public comments during caucus meetings was not on the agenda as an action item but was listed instead as “SunShine Law Rules for Council Workshops Vs. Voting Meetings.”
After the vote was motioned and approved in quick succession, Harvey — evidently taken aback — asked for clarification on what had just taken place.
During her presentation, Turnbull said council is only obligated to allow public comment on issues tied specifically to action taken in the form of a motion.
With caucus meetings intended for discussion only, Turnbull said council can legally limit public comment to business meetings, where laws and proclamations are passed.
Turnbull also suggested council plans to revert back to in-person meetings soon, which may prompt further discussion for how public comments are handled.
After twice tabling a resident’s application to demolish a vacant property, during its May 12 meeting, council dropped its hesitations and allowed the work to move forward.
Councilmember Nick Radoycis, who had previously led the way in voicing opposition to the application, said he had since concluded council should not oppose the demolition because the property in question represents a public safety threat and should be torn down immediately.
“That building’s been a fire hazard for years,” Radoycis, a former fire chief, said. “It’s the biggest fire hazard in the area.”
The dilapidated building at 1220 Grant Way is situated at the end of a paved roadway that reduces to a walkable alley at the point of the property line because the building extends over the area where the road would continue. Radoycis initially opposed the demolition application because he said it was possible the building actually sits on borough property.
The application, made through a county program to tackle blighting, gives possession of the remediated lot to the applicants, Dave and Mary Sue Flick, who own the home next door.
Radoycis said the borough should still look into reclaiming a right-of-way passage and “opening up” the alley to traffic.
Maritz opposed the vote on the application, saying all the properties touching the alley should be surveyed.
Also during the meeting, council approved the hiring of two full-time police officers upon successful completion of routine physical and psychological evaluations.
Maritz, public safety chair, said discussions with Manager Ruth Pompey revealed money was tight but ultimately the budget could be stretched out to cover the new hires.
Questioned by councilwoman Leslie Gee on the racial profile of the new hires, Chief Rick Deliman said they were both white, adding that no Black officers applied for the position.
Council also approved changes to the department’s use of force policy in two areas. The first change requires officers to intervene if they see another officer — regardless of rank —using inappropriate force, while the second lays out provisions for getting medical assistance to suspects when needed.
The revisions are based on newly issued best practices established by the Allegheny County Chiefs of Police Association.
“It’s just to protect everybody involved,” Maritz said.