North Codorus Twp. police separation letter meant to be 'warning'

Southwestern Regional Police Chief Greg Bean holds a press conference on the murder of Samantha Stein, Monday, Dec. 18, 2017. John A. Pavoncello photo

North Codorus' representative now says the township's letter of intent to leave the Southwestern Regional Police Department was simply a warning — and he would have explained that to his fellow police commissioners if he hadn't been excluded from an executive session.

North Codorus Supervisor Rodney Shearer made the comment at a Nov. 14 police commission meeting, a heated gathering during which he also took issue with the department's solicitor conducting research on the consequences of the township's departure.

"Where was action taken for you to do that?" he asked of Walter Tilley, an attorney with the department's law firm, Stock and Leader.

Shearer said any work by Stock and Leader on behalf of the department should have been approved by the board at a public meeting.

The information was requested in executive session — which both Shearer and North Codorus' citizen representative, Rick Lint, were asked to recuse themselves from on the grounds of conflict of interest.

The township submitted a letter dated Oct. 9 to the police commission stating its intent to withdraw from the department and giving it 30 days to return a proposed separation agreement.

More:North Codorus Twp. officials consider leaving Southwestern Regional Police

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During the executive session the commission was simply discussing its response to the letter — and requesting more information to make an informed decision, Tilley said.

"You can't move forward without doing this work," he said, and commission Chairman Matt Bollinger agreed, saying he needed that information in front of him.

Both Shearer and Manheim Township supervisor Larry Miller were at odds with Tilley over the exclusion.

Tilley reported that North Codorus Township's solicitor also disagreed, and in order to remain neutral, he requested an advisory opinion from the state ethics commission. Until then, no more executive sessions will be held.

Shearer later made a motion for all member municipality solicitors to explore options for replacing Stock and Leader over concerns about Tilley — and the motion passed.

Miscommunication: Shearer said the board's interpretation of the township's letter was a miscommunication that could have been avoided if he had been able to explain it during the executive session.

The letter was intended only as a warning — the 30-day deadline won't go into effect until January, he said.

As it stands now, all member municipalities — Heidelberg, Manheim and North Codorus townships, and Spring Grove borough — are committed to finding a solution to reduce police costs before then, board members say — which Shearer said is what it will take to get the township to stay. 

Costs: North Codorus currently pays about 48 percent of the cost for service, and police Chief Gregory Bean has said the only ways to bring the overall cost down would be to sell hours or reduce personnel.

For many years, the department has tried to bring in more municipalities to share hours, but Bean admitted Wednesday that he recently reached out to six, with no takers.

He said the best course of action is to eliminate two department positions by attrition. The police officers' association is open to contract negotiations, he added.

"We are trying to cooperate," Bean said. "The goal here is to figure out a way to try to keep everybody happy."

Shearer said Bean had previously told him the township could do with 100 fewer hours, which sparked his desire to reduce costs.

Jackson Township — whose population is similar to North Codorus Township's — pays about $250,000 less, Shearer said, and he hopes to cut North Codorus' costs by about $350,000.

Bean did not recall giving that number, but said cutting costs by that much is not something he would advise.

Compromise: "Less costs means less service," he said. "Ultimately you'll have to decide — not me — whether that's a good thing or a bad thing."

Proactive policing would be cut, Bean said, and officers would mostly just be responding to calls — something state police could do.

North Codorus Township resident Willa Lefever made a public plea for the member municipalities to compromise, saying the most important thing is for the township to stay — it's what residents want.

Shearer disagreed, saying the majority of residents are committed to cutting costs.

North Codorus resident and former board member John River said he felt the board needed to put aside differences and work hard to settle the issue. 

But Miller said that's exactly what they're doing by trying to find cost reductions — and Shearer is fulfilling his responsibility as an elected official. 

"If they can provide adequate police services for 30 percent less, I guarantee you those people that are working for that money and paying those taxes expect them to do that," he said.