A Washington County judge declined Friday to become involved in an 11th-hour dispute between newly-elected supervisors and the board on which they will begin serving next month.
Donegal Township Supervisor Tammi Iams, and supervisors-elect Richard L. Martin Jr. and Richard Fidler, through their attorney, Lane Turturice, asked Judge Michael Lucas to enjoin the current board, which includes two “lame-duck” supervisors, from voting on labor contracts for police and other municipal services.
Turturice and his clients believe the current board “intends to prematurely conclude the negotiation of two new labor contracts with its police department and police chief in an effort to bind the new board of supervisors that will be seated in January 2020,” according to the civil complaint.
In November, Fidler was elected to a six-year term and Martin was elected to a four-year term. At the supervisors’ regular meeting Dec. 16, Rodney Bush was hired as a full-time police officer.
The board has a special meeting at 6 p.m. Monday, Dec. 30, at 34 N. Liberty St., West Alexander, to adopt a 2020 budget and for “general purposes.”
When Fidler and Martin learned about the board’s impending action on the contracts, they wrote to Sharon Balach, township secretary, threatening legal action.
But when the injunction request came before Lucas Friday morning, the judge cited separation of powers saying, “This is basic government. We do not interfere with the legislative process.
“If they do something illegal, we’ll do something at that point.”
Donegal Solicitor John Hofrichter appeared on behalf of the township, but when Lucas denied Turturice’s motion, there was no reason for him to address the court.
“He can’t stop a separate branch of government – the legislature – from doing things they haven’t done yet,” Hofrichter said outside the courtroom.
Turturice, after conferring with a half-dozen or so Donegal residents who accompanied him to court, said, “Judge Lucas, while he did exercise restraint and did not grant our injunction – and I respect his decision – anyone who heard Judge Lucas can read between the lines.
“He gave the township the opportunity to see if it can do the right thing by not passing these contracts right now.”
Turturice also said opponents of his clients have been slinging mud “suggesting they’re anti-police,” which was not correct.
In his cause of action, Turturice wrote labor contracts for the Donegal police department and chief of police expired about two years ago.
“During the intervening time, the township and police department have done very little together to advance the negotiation of a new contract,” Turturice wrote.
The new contracts then appeared suddenly. Turturice said the board originally voted to hire two part-time officers, which then became one full-time position.
Fidler, Martin and Iams “have various other objections to the various provisions of the proposed labor contracts which contract away and/or severely limit the managerial rights of the new board of supervisors that will be seated in January 2020,” Turturice wrote in his court filing.
Exiting the board will be Douglas Teagarden and Tom Greaves, who was appointed last spring to fill a vacancy. Kathleen Croft and Edward Shingle Jr. were elected along with Iams in 2017 when the board expanded to five seats from a previous three.