The Caernarvon Township police chief has resigned, effective today, after spending the bulk of 2020 on administrative leave.
The township supervisors approved a separation agreement at a special meeting Dec. 23 with John Scalia, a 25-year veteran of the department who has spent nearly all of his career patrolling the Morgantown area.
He told a Reading Eagle reporter the night he was named chief in May 2015 that he once left to work for another department but returned to his southern Berks County roots because he felt it was a great place to raise his children.
"John’s been acting chief for almost a year now, and he’s done a great job," Carnarvon Supervisor Paul L. Whiteman Jr. said after the hiring, as reported in the Eagle. "We did open it up to outside applicants, and most of them were more than well-qualified for the job, but John was the local boy who seemed like the better choice."
The situation appears to have soured in recent times.
According to township meeting minutes:
- An emergency executive session was held March 4 to discuss a personnel issue.
- On March 10, the supervisors held their regular meeting, adjourning to executive session at the end. The board emerged from that closed session and, in a pair of 4-0 votes, retained Kozloff Stoudt Attorneys for special council and ratified a March 5 letter placing "a township employee" on administrative leave.
- At a special meeting April 4, the board voted to appoint Ralph W. Benson, who retired as chief of the Dublin Police Department in Bucks County, as interim chief at a rate of $50 an hour.
- Benson left after a couple of months, and the township has been headed by an officer in charge, Matthew Menna.
It was never discussed in a public session or official communication why Scalia was removed from duty, though the supervisors did confirm in a meeting that the chief was on administrative leave.
On Thursday, township officials would confirm only that the supervisors accepted Scalia’s resignation letter at the special meeting.
Scalia was unavailable for comment Thursday.
Residents have been closely following the developments involving Scalia, 52, over the last nine months.
"I’ve known John for 30 years," said Patti Brann. "He was like a mentor to my kids. He knows the people in the community and who he's protecting. That's what I like about him."
Scalia rose to the rank of sergeant before he was appointed officer in charge following the May 2014 resignation of Paul R. Stolz Jr., who had been chief for 10 years.
The Reading Eagle reported at the time that the supervisors had renewed Stolz's most recent contract for only six months in 2013 to the disappointment of many residents.
A number of residents spoke up in support of Scalia in 2015 when the supervisors were searching for a chief. The board first advertised the police chief position that March and received 17 applications.
"We wanted to make sure we were making the right decision," Whiteman said at the time, as reported in the Eagle. "He had a lot of supporters, and that definitely played a factor in our decision, too. Three of the supervisors have businesses, and customers have brought forth a lot of positive feedback about him."
Caernarvon resident Michelle Raymond, who attends the township meetings and frequently addresses the board, complained of what she views as a lack of transparency on the matter.
"It just seems to be something not right with the board," she said, noting two chiefs have departed in the last six years under less than amicable circumstances.
She said it's concerning that the township has effectively been without a police chief for more than six months. She worries it could be a sign the supervisors aren't committed to keeping a local department, although there has been no talk of disbanding the force.
The township needs a strong local presence, Raymond said, because it’s bisected by the Pennsylvania Turnpike, which is used by drug traffickers, and has the Twin Valley School District main campus and commercial development, including Walmart and a future casino, within its boundaries.
Township Administrator Joan Bair, when asked about plans to fill the police chief vacancy, said it was a matter for the supervisors to discuss at a future meeting.