An investigation into allegations against Westfield’s police chief is ongoing, Mayor Elizabeth Rowland confirmed to this newspaper.
An article in last week’s paper written with information received on deadline inferred the investigation had been completed. Rowland couldn’t confirm details of the investigation or whether a third party will carry it out, only saying that the council is exploring options and the process “will take time.”
At its meeting May 11, council voted unanimously to open an investigation into Chief Dale Niles following accusations by residents of various infractions, including conflicts of interest and ethics violations. The motion included moving Niles to desk duty without use of his patrol car during the investigation.
After an executive session May 25, council voted 3-2 with one abstention to immediately reinstate Niles to his normal duties.
“I thought it was for the benefit of the taxpayers to have him back working,” said Rowland of the reason behind council’s decision.
Councilman Denis Landry told this newspaper the discussion was held in executive session for the purpose of personnel, but that the vote was public. No members of the public or media were present; this newspaper learned of council’s intended action Tuesday afternoon after contacting Landry for updates on the investigation.
The meeting and vote last week were not specifically advertised to the public, but Borough Secretary Lori Nelson said the fourth Tuesdays of the month are reserved for supplemental council meetings if needed. She said these meetings are usually not needed, but were advertised along with the regular meetings, held every second Tuesday, in the beginning of the year.
Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel for the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, said, “There’s no need to advertise an executive session, but official action (votes) can only take place at a properly advertised public meeting and only after there’s been an opportunity for public comment. If the meeting was advertised, there’s not a Sunshine Act issue.”
The Sunshine Act mandates that public entities such as borough councils deliberate and take official action in public. The Act requires such meetings, including special meetings, be advertised to the public in advance. It also gives them the authority to conduct certain business, such as personnel or legal issues, in executive session with only members of the agency present, but any related votes must still be conducted in public. For more information on the Sunshine Act, see https://panewsmedia.org/legal-and-legislative/guide-to-the-pennsylvania-sunshine-act.
The next regular meeting of the Westfield Borough Council is 7 p.m. on Tuesday, June 8 at the borough building.