Gilberton council begins firing process for Chief Kessler
MAHANOY PLANE - Gilberton Borough Council began the process that will lead to the firing of police Chief Mark Kessler at its special meeting Thursday evening.
The short public meeting began after a 15-minute executive session with borough council, Mayor Mary Lou Hannon and special counsel from Elliott Greenleaf & Dean, which was retained in August by council for legal matters involving Kessler.
The small meeting room was packed with print and broadcast news media when council President Daniel Malloy convened the meeting. Also in attendance was Kessler, his attorney, Joseph P. Nahas of Frackville, a small number of borough residents and some of Kessler's supporters.
"Earlier tonight, borough council and Mayor Hannon met in executive session to discuss personnel issues concerning the borough's chief of police. No official action was taken at that meeting," said Malloy.
Hannon was the next to speak, asking council for two motions.
"I ask council to make two motions tonight," said Hannon. "First, I ask council for a motion to suspend Mark Kessler pending termination of his employment."
The motion was made by Vice President Eric Boxer, seconded by Michael VanAllen, and resulted in a 6-1 vote to eventually terminate Kessler. Voting for the motion was Malloy, Boxer, VanAllen, Susan Schmerfeld, Robert Wagner and William Hannon. The lone negative vote was Lloyd George, who also voted against suspending Kessler at the July 31 meeting.
Hannon's request for a second motion involved the appointment of attorney Jarrett J. Ferentino as special hearing master in the event Mark Kessler demands a public hearing. The motion was made by Wagner, seconded by Boxer, and passed unanimously.
Malloy opened the floor to the public for comments only and no questions. Nahas was the first to comment, explaining that a closed hearing involving Kessler was held earlier in the day.
"At that hearing, accusations were made. No one from council was at that meeting except for Mr. George, who I called as a witness," said Nahas. "Out of all the accusations that were made regarding Mr. Kessler, they were all answered and were answered in the negative, whereby he was not involved in any of those accusations that apparently you found him guilty of this evening and that you are moving toward termination."
Nahas added that he had requested at the hearing that Boxer should recuse himself from the vote or to resign from council because he is not being objective in the situation, but the request was denied.
After some short comments from two members of the public, the meeting was adjourned. Nahas and Kessler. Nahas said the accusations against Kessler made by the borough were added after the suspension began on Aug. 1, but Kessler still believes the YouTube videos were the real cause that is leading to his firing.
'Smoke and mirrors'
"This is a whole new scheme on their (borough) part," said Nahas. "It's smoke and mirrors that they tried to basically tried to disguise it with these other issues when it clearly is the original issue, which is the shooting of the videos."
"I believe it's the videos," said Kessler.
"Now we will request a public hearing, which will probably be held in the next 10 days," Nahas explained. "During the hearing, we'll answer all the accusations that the borough has come forward with, none which are shooting videos, using weapons and foul language. This is part of due process. I don't know how we're going to get everybody in the little room again."
Nahas said witnesses can be called by both sides during the hearing.
"This hearing will be before an objective hearing officer (Ferentino)," said Nahas. "The borough's special counsel will bring forth evidence to support their accusations, and then the chief and I will bring forth evidence to show the accusations are completely frivolous. The hearing officer will bring the information to the borough, and borough council will make the final decision to terminate. It's kind of like 'kangaroo court.' The same people who moved for termination are the same people who will vote to terminate."
When asked what the next step will be if the firing is final, Nahas said, "If indeed they (council) moves forward with termination, then we're going to use every remedial means that I can, whether it's common pleas court or federal court, for wrongful termination."
Kessler said he is "absolutely" in the fight for the long haul.
"I believe in my country, its constitution and what it was founded on," said Kessler. "I have the right to express myself under the First Amendment, and I have the right to express myself under the Second Amendment with the firearms. Maybe people didn't like it, but I have that right."
The two special counsel attorneys, Joseph J. Joyce and Larry Moran, declined any comments, including explaining the public hearing procedure, stating that it is a personnel issue.
In the morning, a small rally of about two dozen people gathered around Kessler while he waited for the disciplinary hearing. The group stood near the playground a short distance from the Gilberton Municipal Building. Kessler answered questions from the news media while his supporters gathered around him.
Two Mahanoy Plane residents - Larry Cairo and his daughter, Katie Cairo - were there to support Kessler. They were asked why they think highly of him.
"In my opinion, he saved her life," said Larry Cairo, referring to Katie. "She ran away a few years back and my heart was broken. He came to my rescue. He came down to my house, and then knocked on every door between here and Mahanoy City to find her for me. Why do we want to get rid of him because he used some vulgar language?"
Larry Cairo said that his neighbors also like Kessler for the work he does in the borough and said his performance is "excellent."
"As a police chief, he's been the best thing that's ever happened to Gilberton Borough when it comes to law enforcement," he said. "There isn't a resident who can say that he wasn't at their doorstep when they called for him. We're without a cop right now, and he's a very good one."
"We need him back immediately," said Katie Cairo.
At 10 a.m., a closed hearing was held in the Gilberton Municipal Building that included Kessler, Nahas, special counsel attorneys, Hannon, and Lloyd George and his son, Lloyd George Jr., who attended at the request of Nahas on Kessler's behalf.
The hearing last about one hour, with Kessler and Nahas leaving the building and speaking with the news media. Kessler supporters, who had arrived prior to the hearing to show support, stood near Kessler, some carrying rifles and pistols and wearing clothing with the emblems of the "Constitutional Security Force," a pro-Second Amendment organization founded by Kessler.