Three West Pittston council members resign posts over police chief’s pension

By Jimmy Fisher - | September 6th, 2016 10:36 pm

WEST PITTSTON — Council President Brian Thornton, council Vice President Pete Musinski and Councilman Kevin Lescavage all abruptly resigned their positions at the council’s monthly meeting over the awarding of a disability pension to the borough’s police chief.

All three said the council did irreparable damage to the borough by awarding the pension to Police Chief Paul Porifiro, allowing him to retire due to health issues and collect a pension from the borough. The borough will pay the pension over the course of the next 17 years — until Porifiro reaches retirement age.

The payments will cost borough residents anywhere from $80,000 to $90,000 annually, according to council members.

Thornton also noted that, on top of an impending tax hike, there could also be a cutback on services from the fire department, police department and ambulance associations due to the costs of the pension.

“The financial impact is going to be crippling, in my opinion” said Thornton. “It won’t really kick in for two to three years from now. I am shocked, and I was appalled. All of the evidence that we had, in my opinion, the amount of evidence that we had from outside professionals and outside sources supported the position that we do not grant that pension.”

The motion passed 4-3 at a special public meeting Aug. 30 with Thornton, Lescavage and Musinski voting against it.

Thornton and Musinski have served on council for 11 years, while Lescavage held a previous term from 2006 to 2009 before being re-elected to a two-year term in March.

Thornton said Porifiro did not meet all the criteria to be awarded the pension as he did not present evidence to the council that he submitted paperwork to the Social Security Administration to determine his qualification. He also said the council did not follow state law in awarding the pension.

Council members Judy Aita and Peter Albano explained they voted “yes” because they felt it was the right thing, saying the chief was deserving of the pension.

“The chief put his life on the line for us every day,” said Aita. “He was injured on the job in a drug bust, and I feel that for the rest of his life his life is hampered for the job he did for us. It’s one of the reasons, and I wish him well.”

Council members John Hood and Charles Alfano noted they wanted to avoid a lawsuit against the borough.

“It’s probably going to cost us tens of thousands of dollars more than what we would have been paying,” Hood said. “I feel the guy deserves it.

“He worked his time and put his time in here. That’s my opinion.”

Porifiro served as borough police chief for eight years.

Porifiro’s pension isn’t the first disability pension to be awarded to a borough police chief. The council granted a disability pension to then borough police chief David Smith under similar circumstances in 2008.

Thornton explained that council did not know then what they do now in terms of following state law and how the process of awarding a disability pension should be done, saying then borough mayor Bill Goldsworthy and solicitor Charles Bufalino Jr. advised council they were required to award it.

“We had none of that (information) back then if I recall,” explained Thornton. “We knew none of that back then. It absolutely happened that away, and it’s unfortunate. I don’t think we should just keep going on and on and doing it the wrong way. In hindsight, I wish we did it the right way back then.”

The council, by law, must fill the vacant seats within the 30 days of when they take effect.

Musinski’s and Lescavage’s resignations took effect Wednesday while Thornton’s takes effect Friday. Fisher | Times Leader
West Pittston residents pile into the conference room at the municipal building Tuesday prior to a public meeting. Pittston residents pile into the conference room at the municipal building Tuesday prior to a public meeting. Jimmy Fisher | Times Leader

By Jimmy Fisher

Reach Jimmy Fisher at 570-704-3972 or on Twitter @SD_JimmyFisher