EDITORIAL: Nice job if you can get paid not to do it

The York Dispatch

The York Area Regional Police Commission owes an explanation to residents in a large swath of the county.

York Area Regional Police Chief Tom Gross looks over some historic photos of himself Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015. He retired in December of 2015. (Bill Kalina - The York Dispatch)

The commission manages one of York County's largest law enforcement agencies, covering seven municipalities that are home to some 47,000 taxpayers.

These residents deserve to know why they are paying one person to head the regional police department — and another to stay away.

According to a separation agreement both parties apparently hoped would go unnoticed, former police Chief Tom Gross was paid his entire 2016 salary of more than $112,000 after Dec. 11, 2015, his last day with the department. He also will continue to receive his health care benefits — a maximum of $1,400 — this year.

The document, which The York Dispatch recently obtained from the commission through a right-to-know request, raises several questions:

What prompted the commission to essentially pay Gross not to work?

If the commission wanted to take the department "in another direction," why not wait until the chief's contract was up?

If Gross' work was not satisfactory, why wasn't he fired outright?

The separation agreement sheds light on the last question: Gross didn't do a bad job.

"Employer acknowledges that employee has neither been accused of, nor has committed, any malfeasance, act, omission to act, or any other circumstance that would give rise to his termination," it states, and it notes this was "a compromise settlement" in which Gross admitted no "unsatisfactory performance."

Then why did the commission apparently send Gross away and put nearly 50,000 taxpayers on the hook for his 2016 salary and health care benefits? What justifies that?

We haven't heard a good explanation.

Frankly, we haven't heard any explanation, other than what's included in the separation agreement.

By the way, that document also notes Gross and the commission agreed they would not "in any way seek to publicize or cause to be publicized in any way ... the facts or terms or conditions of this agreement."

Gross termed his departure a retirement from the force, which he headed since its founding in 2000. But retirees generally don't continue to collect salaries after they leave a job — a pension, maybe, but not a salary.

It seems clear Gross was paid to leave — and not come back.

"Employee will neither return to work, nor will he reapply for employment with employer in the future," the separation agreement states.

So what's going on here?

York Township Commissioner Al Granholm, who is chairman of the York Area Regional Police Commission, declined to comment, saying it was a personnel matter.

Attorney Steve Hovis, the commission's solicitor, did not return a phone message seeking comment, and neither did Windsor Township Supervisor Jo Anna Shovlin, who serves as vice chair of the police commission.

We hope someone in the know eventually goes on record with an explanation. The residents in York Area Regional's territory, we suspect, will demand that.

They should be able to decide for themselves if there was a top management problem in the department — and whether, perhaps, it still exists.