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APPEAL FROM DEMOTION GEORGE J. GETTLER (05/03/79)

decided: May 3, 1979.

IN RE: APPEAL FROM DEMOTION OF GEORGE J. GETTLER, SR., POLICE OFFICER, SOUTH LEBANON TOWNSHIP. GEORGE J. GETTLER, SR., APPELLANT


Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Lebanon County in case of In Re: Appeal from Demotion of George J. Gettler, Sr., Police Officer, South Lebanon Township, No. 854, 1976.

COUNSEL

Kenneth C. Sandoe, with him L. E. Meyer, and Christianson and Meyer, for appellant.

Keith L. Kilgore, with him Spitler, Rowe and Kilgore, for appellee.

Judges Wilkinson, Jr., DiSalle and MacPhail, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge DiSalle.

Author: Disalle

[ 42 Pa. Commw. Page 416]

This is an appeal by George J. Gettler, Sr. (Gettler), from the order of the Court of Common Pleas of Lebanon County, dated June 21, 1977. The somewhat unusual factual and procedural posture of this case follows.

Gettler began his service with South Lebanon Township (Township) as a part-time police chief on January 1, 1957. He was appointed to full-time police chief on January 1, 1960, and while he was the only member of the police force employed in a full-time capacity at that time, the force subsequently grew to where it now consists of a total of five, sometimes

[ 42 Pa. Commw. Page 417]

    six, police officers. During this entire period, and up until February 25, 1976, Gettler had never been officially reprimanded, admonished, or criticized. On February 25, 1976, however, he was handed a formal notice of demotion by the Township Board of Supervisors (Board). Thereafter, Gettler filed an answer to the charges set forth in the notice of demotion, and requested a hearing.

A hearing on the demotion was held on March 17, 1976, and, at the conclusion thereof, the Board announced that it affirmed the demotion. On April 6, 1976, Gettler appealed the decision to the lower court. The Board thereafter filed preliminary objections in the nature of a demurrer. Relying on this Court's opinion in Kretzler v. Ohio Township, 14 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 236, 322 A.2d 157 (1974), the lower court determined that the Local Agency Law, Act of December 2, 1968, P.L. 1133, as amended, formerly, 53 P.S. § 11301 et seq., repealed by the Judiciary Act Repealer Act, Act of April 28, 1978, P.L. 202, 42 P.S. § 20001 et seq., governed the hearing afforded Gettler, notwithstanding his failure to specifically predicate his appeal thereon. The court then held that since Gettler had not been afforded an adequate opportunity to present a defense, he was entitled to a new hearing. Accordingly, the preliminary objections were dismissed and the case was remanded to the Township for further hearings.

These hearings were held on January 19, 26, and 27, 1977. On February 1, 1977, the Board confirmed its previous action of demotion. Gettler again appealed to the lower court. The court, without taking additional testimony, rendered a decision on June 21, 1977, restoring Gettler to his rank as chief of police for the period from February 25, 1976, to June 21, 1977. However, on the strength of what was characterized as "independent testimony," it also ordered

[ 42 Pa. Commw. Page 418]

    that Gettler be demoted from chief of police as of the date of its order. Gettler appealed this decision to our Court, challenging that part of the order demoting him, arguing that the lower court was without ...


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