SHAMOKIN - A city corporal has been promoted to become Shamokin's next police chief.

Cpl. Darwin Tobias III will take over the lead role at the Shamokin Police Department beginning Thursday, Mayor William D. Milbrand told The News-Item Monday afternoon. He made the announcement official during Monday's special meeting of city council.

Tobias, 33, is entering his 14th year with the department. He accepted the job Sunday after weighing Milbrand's offer during the past two weeks. He will earn a $60,000 salary and medical benefits, as set by a unanimous vote of city council.

Tobias replaces retiring chief Edward Griffiths, whose last day is Wednesday.

"Obviously it's something you always want to do, you work towards that," Tobias said Monday of becoming a police chief. "I look forward to working with the whole office and improving and building on what we have now."

Milbrand said he discussed the chief's position with two other officers, but that a formal offer was only extended to Tobias.

He described Tobias as personable and professional, calm in the face of pressure. He expects the incoming chief will work well with his fellow officers, city council and Shamokin residents.

"I just think he's got everything it takes to be a quality police chief," Milbrand said. "I hope there's not any resentment from some of the officers that have been there longer than him. I hope they support him," he said.

Although Tobias lives in Mount Carmel - Milbrand has a firm belief that city employees should live in Shamokin - he said he'd swallow his pride this time. That doesn't mean he won't encourage Tobias to relocate down the road.

'Good choice'

Tobias, who said he doesn't intend for the appointment to keep him in the office instead of out among the people of Shamokin, admitted having some uncertainty due to the city's continuing financial struggles. His wife, family and friends all helped him come to his decision. He also credited his current boss, Griffiths, who he said was "fully supportive."

"He's going out of his way to help me get acclimated. I really appreciate that," Tobias said, adding that Griffiths laid a solid foundation to build on.

"Darve's a good cop," Griffiths said Monday when reached for comment. "I'm very proud of him. He has the personality, he's level-headed, he's a good choice."

Tobias will be sworn-in during a ceremony at 6 p.m. Thursday inside the mayor's office.

Griffiths has served the police department for 22 years, the last four as chief. With his exit, the police force will drop to 10 full-time officers, including Tobias. Milbrand said there are no immediate plans to hire another officer.

Salary approval

The appointment is the mayor's alone to make, but a majority vote of city council was needed to approve the new chief's salary. Milbrand said he offered Tobias $60,000, $2,000 more than the starting salaries of the past two chiefs. He said he wanted to "sweeten the pot" to ensure a timely replacement was made. After convening a 20-minute closed-door executive session with council members, a 5-0 vote approved the salary.

Relations between the police department and city hall became publicly strained in December when police officer furloughs were announced as part of a larger effort to erase a $616,000 budget deficit. Three officers were recalled from furlough after less than one month - two full-time patrol officers and a part-time meter clerk. A second part-time meter clerk remains on furlough.

The department took a public stand when its entire force signed a letter this month addressed to Griffiths requesting that the state attorney general's office conduct a forensic audit of Shamokin's 2013 finances. A state official said in response that the city's annual audit due in June must outline the allegation of a crime to warrant a forensic audit.

Tensions had already been mounting in 2013 leading up to the Jan. 1, 2014, expiration of a collective bargaining agreement. Negotiations have reached arbitration. Three arbitrators are scheduled to meet Thursday to discuss the proposals; however, a ruling is not expected immediately.

Milbrand had nothing new to say about the arbitration process, except to say that decisions he's making as mayor aren't personal.

"There's changes to be made that I have to look into for the benefit of the city," Milbrand said, alluding to the debt Shamokin's accumulated. "I don't have a vendetta against a single one of those guys."

City council will apply to state Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) for Act 47 status, designating Shamokin as a financially distressed municipality (see separate story). The city has $811,000-plus in unpaid bills from 2013, and it's projected to run out of cash by August and finish 2014 in the hole by $350,000 if no changes are made.

Should DCED accept Shamokin's application, it would offer the city an interest-free loan to pay off the outstanding bills and provide greater oversight of its attempts at financial recovery.