Tunkhannock Borough Council honored one of its own police officers for valor and also accepted the resignation of one of its long-standing members- Stacy Huber – at its meeting Monday night.
Patrolman Dustin Cokely was honored with a Badge of Valor at the front end of the meeting.
Mayor Norm Ball read the following commendation, “We are proud to honor Officer Dustin Cokely with this Badge of Valor for his deep dedication to the Tunkhannock Borough Police and the people for which he serves. His outstanding performance and unprecedented bravery go above and beyond his call to duty!. With this we show our deepest appreciation to Officer Cikely’s contribution to our community,”
It was signed by the mayor and Chief Keith Carpenter.
Cokely, was the first law enforcement officer to respond to the scene of four shootings at the Weis Market in Eaton Township, and did not know for certain what he might encounter at the scene.
After awarding the badge, Borough Council and those in the audience including District Attorney Jeff Mitchell and Wyoming County Chief Detective David Ide as well as all of his fellow borough police officers gave Cokely a standing ovation.
Each of the council members personally shook his hand in a gesture of appreciation.
Following the ceremony, the borough council meeting was opened by Bob Robinson.
He said that Huber had submitted a resignation letter on July 11 to step down as council president, and council accepted it unanimously with regret.
In the letter, read by Robinson, no reason was given for his stepping down but he stated it was “an honor and privilege to serve” and he thanked his fellow council members as well as the community for their trust, cooperation and support.
Robinson said Huber did a “wonderful job” guiding council over the years and Mayor Norm Ball said he was just “an outstanding guy” who was committed to doing an excellent job every day for the borough.
“And it didn’t just stop with council business,” Ball said, citing his time investment over the years with the Community Ambulance Association and the borough’s Municipal Authority, and other selfless tasks.
Council voted unanimously to make Robinson its president, and local businessman Ben Barziloski vice president.
First order of business under the new president was a discussion about concerns from the state Department of Environmental Protection about the borough’s storm water getting mixed in with the regular sewage water after significant weather events.
Council in the past has sought financial assistance from DEP grant programs but has always been turned down, Robinson said.
He noted that Tunkhannock had been informed that the state Department of Transportation (PennDOT) had what are called Set-Aside Coordinators Grants which could potentially help with storm water diversion.
Robinson said that he and borough manager Dawn Welch had met with PennDOT and Northern Tier personnel about the program, and that he was looking for council’s approval to see if the borough might pre-qualify before extensive paperwork was attempted.
Council voted unanimously to seek a pre-qualification application and also gave permission to Welch to fill it out and keep the process moving.
Robinson announced that preparation of the 2018 calendar year budget was in the works, and the police and public works departments needed to file by September 1 with the borough manager any specific needs requests for the new year.
Robinson had a brief transportation and streets report which addressed a letter the borough had received from Eaton Township regarding a $58,400 grant it received for lights on the Susquehanna River bridge that links the two municipalities.
Without getting into specifics, Mayor Ball said he believed the program was to replace poles and provide LED lights as an energy efficiency move to replace the current street lamps.
Ball, in his Riverside Park report, said the recent River Day celebration organized by the Wyoming County Cultural Center/Dietrich Theater was a resounding success with an estimated 1,500-1,800 people participating “and seems like every one had a good time.”
Robinson said that it looked like the borough needed to remove some 6-8 ash trees in the park which apparently had been victims of the emerald ash borer.
Ball said one tree particularly was “really urgent” in taking down for public safety reasons.
In his role as police commissioner, Ball gave credit to the borough police for doing an excellent job. He noted that using year-to-date totals, compared to last year criminal charges were up six-fold from 33 to 189 and traffic arrests up nearly eight-fold from 66 to 515.
Ball said that one of the things council neglected to do last month was vote on a police contract that would take the matter to 2021.
It guaranteed a one and a half percent pay increase for the first year, and zero percent in the following three years, but the borough would be responsible for a 5 percent contribution to the police pension fund and there would be a $50 increase in uniform allowance for part-timers.
Council voted 5-1 for the contract, with Councilman Marshall Davis casting the lone negative vote and councilman Scott Douthett absent.
In his police report Chief Keith Carpenter thanked council for honoring Patrolman Dustin Cokely with the valor medal at the beginning of the meeting, He said it was well-deserved and not just for what he did over at Weis.
In another matter, Carpenter said he had spoken with a salesman from a local car dealer who would speak to council about the advantages of leasing or buying regarding the future acquisition of a new police vehicle.
He noted that a 2011 cruiser has transmission issues, and questioned how much longer it could be counted on.
Carpenter echoed the mayor’s comment about a busy first seven months, and noted that the 237 incidents handled by the police department last month was the highest number for a month over the past year.
Councilman Lisa Tesluk inquired about whether break-ins were still an issue, and Carpenter said “yes” and cited an area around Spruce Street. However, he noted that the Triton fire carnival just concluded saw the number of vehicle break-ins down from other years. “The carnival was actually wonderful this year as a police issue,” Carpenter said.
Robinson read into the record a letter from Chief Carpenter asking about the possibility of promoting long-time patrolman Dustin Cokely to sergeant.
The matter had been raised a month ago at a borough council meeting and Robinson asked Davis Monday if the police committee could address the matter and come back with a recommendation in September. Davis said it could and will.
Robinson said Council was considering a new zoning document on recommendation of its solicitor, and that would require a 30-day notice before it could occur.
If it can, the ordinance will be advertised and then a public hearing will be held at 6:45 p.m. either before the Sept. 7 or Oct. 5 regular council meeting.
Resident Ned Slocum said the borough’s planning commission had completed its review of the ordinance revision document July 20 and it recommended that council adopt it before the end of the year.