West York throws out mayor's suspension of chief


West York borough has decided it didn't have to enforce its embattled mayor's order to suspend the borough's acting police chief.

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.

On Wednesday afternoon, Mauck said that he disagreed with the mayor's suspension, but at least for the time the borough had to acknowledge Wasko's power as mayor to suspend Millsaps. 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 was at the scene of the blaze, and he remembers Millsaps using the equipment.

But then Thursday morning Mauck confirmed that the council had reviewed Wasko's suspension of Millsaps and determined that it was unlawful and void.

Millsaps said  Thursday that he got a call and an email Wednesday night from Mauck saying that the borough had reviewed the suspension and deemed that it didn't have legal grounds.

'Playing games': In Pennsylvania, a borough mayor's power is limited, but the elected official does have some oversight into the day-to-day operations of a borough police department and can suspend officers with cause.

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

Millsaps said that he was back at work on Thursday as normal.

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 the next meeting, scheduled for Monday, Mauck said, and it's likely he will receive back pay.

Borough solicitor Mieke Driscoll didn't return messages Wednesday or Thursday afternoon seeking comment. Wasko has ignored repeated attempts to reach him in the several weeks since The York Dispatch broke the news about his Facebook posts that all seven borough council members and many locals found objectionable.

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

Millsaps on Thursday evening said he was glad the borough came to the conclusion it did about his suspension. The police department is in a time of transition, he said, and he didn't want the mayor's actions getting in the way of the West York Borough Police Department moving forward.

"I don't want our momentum to be swayed by what clothes I wear to work each day," the acting chief said.

Mayor: The borough council unanimously has pressured the mayor to resign in the weeks since his Facebook posts came to light, ultimately making national headlines.

As part of the letter that contained the would-be 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 in the police department.

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," Mauck said on Wednesday. "We plan on accepting his resignation on Monday (during the next council meeting)."

Mauck again called on the mayor to submit his resignation, but he said the council believes they have held up their end of the mayor's proposal, so he has, in effect, resigned anyway.

Mauck said the council plans to vote on Wasko's resignation during Monday's meeting at 6 p.m. in the borough offices at 1381 W. Poplar St., .

Matthew Millsaps was named acting chief of West York Police Dept. on Sept. 3, 2016.

Background: 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.

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.

— Sean Cotter covers York City for The York Dispatch. Contact him atscotter@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at@SPCotterYD.