Police chief quickly reinstated, Wasko faces resignation vote

Sean Philip Cotter
  • West York mayor suspended borough's acting police chief, but council reinstated him same day.
  • Mayor Wasko, under fire for racist posts, also detailed demands that would lead to his resignation.
  • Council president said one of those demands has been met, and they will vote to accept resignation.

West York's embattled mayor suspended its police chief, effective Wednesday morning, but the suspension lasted less than a day, and the borough council president believes that the mayor's controversial tenure could end next week.

Mayor Charles Wasko, who has come under fire in recent weeks for racist Facebook posts, emailed the borough a letter on Tuesday saying that he was suspending Acting Police Chief Matt Millsaps, effective Wednesday, according to borough council president Shawn Mauck.

West York Mayor Charles Wasko.

The mayor does have the power to discipline police officers, so the borough has to allow the suspension, Mauck said at the time.

On Thursday morning, Mauck confirmed that the council reviewed Wasko's suspension and determined that it was unlawful and void, reinstating Millsaps in time for his Wednesday evening shift.

Mauck said the Wasko was informed of the council's review and decision.

"It's unfortunate he would try to oppress a member of our department by playing games," Mauck said. "We're doing everything we can to ensure the public is safe."

In the letter, in which Wasko also proposed conditions for his resignation, the mayor alleged that Millsaps broke from departmental policy by not wearing his bulletproof vest at the scene of the three-alarm fire that consumed the West York Sporting Goods gun range and shop on Sept. 30, according to Mauck. But, Mauck said, he himself was at the scene of the blaze, and he remembers Millsaps using the equipment.

"I gotta tell you, I was on the scene, and he was wearing a vest," Mauck said.

Senators discuss removing West York mayor

A York Dispatch reporter at the scene of the fire also saw Millsaps wearing what appeared to be a police vest.

When reached by phone on Wednesday, Millsaps said he was wearing a bulletproof vest. He said he got the email from Wasko on Tuesday and described the note as a "nonsensical mess."

The night of that big fire, as emergency crews battled the blaze, Wasko showed up at the borough offices, shouting that Millsaps was suspended, according to borough officials. Mauck at that time said that that suspension didn't take, as screaming commands at a mostly empty building isn't the protocol for a mayor to hand down a suspension.

"Sounds like every day I'm getting suspended lately," Millsaps deadpanned to The York Dispatch.

Millsaps has held the post of acting chief since Justin Seibel, who had been chief up to that point, was placed on administrative leave at the start of September for reasons the board has declined to expand on since they're related to internal personnel matters that don't have to be made public.

Any loss of income from Millsaps' short suspension will be formally reviewed by the council at their Monday meeting, Mauck said, and it's likely he will receive back pay.

Wasko: Mauck said the borough's civil service commission has a meeting scheduled for 5 p.m. Monday in the borough offices at 1381 W. Poplar St., an hour before council is slated to meet at that location. The commission, which is composed of councilwoman Shelley Metzler and borough residents Varlan Gibbs and Cherry Sweitzer, had planned to vote on Millsaps' suspension before finding that they were legally allowed to reinstate him sooner, Mauck said.

Mauck said that borough law enforcement had been able to call on county and mutual-aid resources in the case of a major incident while Millsaps was suspended.

The council does plan to vote Monday on whether to accept Wasko's resignation, Mauck said.

As part of the letter that contained the suspension, "there was kind of a weird list of demands," Mauck said. Three of the four demands, Mauck said, were related to personnel issues, but one was that the council "entertain" the possibility of hiring a sergeant.

West York council, residents want mayor out

And, according to Mauck, the mayor wrote that he would resign effective 10 days from Tuesday if the council complied with any of his demands.

"We informed him yesterday that we have entertained it," he said on Wednesday. "We plan on accepting his resignation on Monday (during the next council meeting)."

He again called on the mayor to submit his resignation but said that whether or not the mayor has any further contact with other borough officials, that the council believes they have held up their end of the mayor's proposal, so he is, in effect, resigned anyway.

The council unanimously has pressured the mayor to resign in the weeks since The York Dispatch reported on his Facebook posts, which ultimately made national headlines.

Posts: Wasko, who was elected mayor in 2013, has made several posts on Facebook this year that council members and community members took issue with. Two compared President Barack Obama and his family to apes, and one suggested Obama should be hanged with a noose. Another post featured a fictional black person saying that socialism is "when the white folks work every day so we can get all our governmental entitlement stuff for free."

The post with the noose appears to have been removed, but the others remain up on his public Facebook page.

Residents and community members gather to protest behaviors of the Mayor Wasko during a Council Meeting in West York Borough, Monday, Oct. 3, 2016. The council would unanimously give directive to borough solicitor Mieke Driscoll to look into "any means necessary" to remove Wasko as mayor. Dawn J. Sagert photo

At a meeting  Oct. 3, after listening to residents largely stating that they wanted Wasko out, the West York borough council unanimously censured the mayor and advised the borough's solicitor to look for "any means possible" to remove him from office. Those motions came after a parade of locals spoke for an hour and a half, almost all calling the mayor's posts on Facebook racist and unacceptable.

On Wednesday, Mauck dressed down Wasko for what he sees as the mayor's ongoing efforts to grab power and take vengeance.

"It kinda shows what this is: This is a sour-grapes attempt by the mayor to assert his authority and try to play retribution games," Mauck said.

Mayor Charles Wasko has a sign posted on his door asking that the media not try to contact him because, he says, his side always gets cut.

Wasko repeatedly has not returned messages from the Dispatch seeking comment about the whole situation stemming from the reports on the Facebook posts. No one responded to knocks on his door Wednesday evening.

Borough solicitor Mieke Driscoll didn't return a message Wednesday afternoon seeking comment.

— Contact Sean Cotter atscotter@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at@SPCotterYD.