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TOWNSHIP PERKIOMEN v. C. ROY MEST (03/10/87)

decided: March 10, 1987.

THE TOWNSHIP OF PERKIOMEN, THE BOARD OF SUPERVISORS OF PERKIOMEN TOWNSHIP, CLAIRE S. OLSEN, RICHARD KRATZ, DAVID N. MYERS, AND JOHN STEELE, FOUR OF THE FIVE SUPERVISORS OF PERKIOMEN TOWNSHIP, APPELLANTS,
v.
C. ROY MEST, LAWRENCE T. ZIMMERMAN, SHANE T. CLARK, AND WILLIAM PATTERSON, JR., APPELLEES



Appeal No. 81 E.D. Appeal Docket 1986, from the Order of the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania at No. 2737 C.D. 1984, Dated October 18, 1985, 92 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 307, Nix, C.j., and Larsen, Flaherty, McDermott, Hutchinson, Zappala and Papadakos, JJ. Zappala, J., concurs in the result. Larsen, J., files a dissenting opinion.

Author: Papadakos

[ 513 Pa. Page 600]

OPINION OF THE COURT

Appellees were members of the four man Perkiomen Township Police Department, which supplied sixteen hour per day service to Perkiomen Township, a Second Class Township in Montgomery County. In 1982, the Board of Supervisors retained a consulting firm to review the operation and management of the police department. The consultants concluded that the police department was not well run and made four recommendations: 1) maintain the police department but overhaul its operation; 2) contract with another municipality for police services; 3) form a regional police department; or 4) abolish the police department and rely on the state police. The Board met with the police and held public and private meetings on the issue. Finally, for the stated purpose of cutting expenses, Resolution 82-9 was passed by the Board on December 7, 1982, by a 4-1 vote. That resolution abolished the police department in favor of state police protection.

Apparently there was animosity between Appellee, Police Chief Mest, and certain members of the Board. In January, 1979, Chief Mest allegedly tape recorded a meeting with three of the supervisors without their knowledge. The supervisors were outraged when they learned of the alleged taping and contacted the District Attorney about instituting criminal proceedings. Charges were later dismissed. In addition, other police officers complained about Chief Mest's practices and work habits to at least one of the supervisors. A supervisor investigated the claim; apparently, however, no action was taken. Two supervisors publicly stated their desire to get rid of Chief Mest, but remarked that it might be easier to get rid of the whole police department. The police department cost the Township about $105,000.00 per year. Abolishing it cost about

[ 513 Pa. Page 601]

$20,000.00 in unemployment compensation costs, and about $5,000.00 in miscellaneous "shut-down" costs. In addition, about $7,000.00 in fines were lost. The Township realized a net savings of approximately $73,000.00 by dissolving the police department. Evidence was presented that the Township had sufficient revenues to maintain the police department if it had wished to do so.

Appellees, the former police officers, filed a mandamus action in the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County seeking reinstatement and backpay. They claimed that the resolution which abolished the police department was adopted in "bad faith." After a hearing at which three of the five supervisors testified, Judge Tredinnick held that Appellees had not met their burden of showing bad faith and, on October 26, 1983, dismissed the complaint. Appellees promptly filed a petition on November 4, 1983, to reopen the case on the grounds of after-discovered evidence.

At his pre-trial deposition, Supervisor George Dresing, the sole dissenter from Resolution 82-9, had been asked if he felt there were any reasons other than economic ones for the abolishment of the police department. He answered unequivocally that there were none:

Q. Were there other discussions, other than at the public meeting where the vote was taken, to which you were a party, involving the discussion of the abolition of the police department?

A. Well, for three years, the police department has been under discussion, not abolition. It has always been discussed.

Q. What has the nature of the discussion been?

A. I could spend an hour and a half replying. I think it would be, summing up, just general statements, expenses, debts, income, outgo, performance of duty, just normal police routine discussion.

[ 513 Pa. Page 602]

Q. Did you feel that there was any other reason, other than money, for abolishing ...


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