Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era
Mount Joy Borough demotes its chief
BY DAN NEPHIN, Staff Writer
Mount Joy Borough Council demoted its police chief to sergeant on Monday, finding he failed to "meet administrative expectations of the position."
The decision ends six months of limbo for the borough and John O'Connell, who had been on paid administrative leave since July.
Bill Hall, chairman of the public safety committee, called the demotion a "reassignment agreement and release" that was agreed to by the borough and O'Connell in a motion offered to council.
Council voted 7-1 for the demotion, with Councilman Barry Mowrer opposing. Councilman John Hiestand was absent.
In a written statement, Hall said, "O'Connell has always exhibited dedication to the police department and the Mount Joy community."
After O'Connell was placed on administrative leave on July 23, the borough's legal counsel "conducted a thorough investigation of all concerns and allegations," according to a statement released by borough council.
"... While the overwhelming majority of the concerns raised were unfounded, there were nevertheless certain issues concerning internal procedures which needed to be addressed."
The statement did not elaborate.
O'Connell, who was not at the meeting, said during a telephone interview that he was "glad this is all behind me. This has been a nightmare."
He said he did not completely agree with the finding that he didn't meet administrative expectations.
"I don't dispute it," he said. "I want to get back to work."
While saying he was "more than happy to go back as sergeant," he acknowledged it will be difficult to work alongside officers he had supervised, "but I have to get through it."
He thanked friends and family for their support.
He also took comfort in the statement's wording, clearing him of an accusation suggesting he did not tell the truth during an arbitration hearing for another officer.
Officer Jose A. Ortiz Jr., president of the borough's police union, made the claim in July. O'Connell denied it then and again Monday.
In its statement, council said, "The investigation found unequivocally that Chief O'Connell is an honest and dedicated person, and that he was not at any time guilty of any illegal conduct or intentional wrongdoing."
Ortiz, who was at Monday's meeting, declined to comment.
Asked about his vote, Mowrer said he "wasn't in total agreement with what was discussed tonight."
He said he did not favor keeping O'Connell as chief but wouldn't say if he instead wanted O'Connell demoted to patrolman or fired.
The investigation took longer than expected for various reasons, including having to interview multiple people about concerns in the department over the past two years, Hall said.
O'Connell, who was named chief in April 2007 and has worked in the department more than 27 years, will return to work Feb. 5.
He was paid $83,591 as police chief and will reimburse the borough $7,609 -- the pay differential between chief and sergeant from July 24 to the present.
He also will pay about $1,500 for partial legal fees.
Detective Joe Goody will remain in charge of the department, said council president Chris Metzler.