Duncansville seeks new police chief

Council votes to advertise post after mid-August search for Ott’s replacement failed

Who will take the reins as the Duncansville police chief remains up in the air.

Borough Council voted unanimously Monday night to advertise the position after a mid-August search failed to secure a successor to Jim Ott, the longtime head of the small police department who begins his tenure as Blair County sheriff in January.

“Every time it comes up, they go into executive session,” said resident Ed Blontz, whose wife is the president of Borough Council, after the public was ushered out of the Duncansville Municipal Building so the issue could be discussed behind closed doors.

“They knew since the primaries,” Ed Blontz, 62, said. “I think it’s wrong. They don’t tell the people anything.”

Ott secured the sheriff nomination on both Republican and Democratic ballots in May, virtually assuring his victory in last week’s General Election.

The handful of residents who waited to see what would come out of the council’s closed door discussions on personnel matters were most concerned the police chief position would go from a full-time job to only a part-time position.

Jon Lykens, 63, spoke to council before its half-hour executive session, saying he was worried the quality of life in Duncansville would “backslide” if the chief’s position was only part time.

“Some people want to reduce our full-time police chief position to part time to save money,” said Lykens, a borough resident for 37 years. “What price do we put on our family’s safety and our own?”

Lykens said Ott has worked hard with his officers to keep drug dealers from setting up shop and said whenever there is an emergency, the chief has responded, even when he is not working. The borough sits at the crossroads of Route 22, I-99 and Route 220, he said, which means other communities’ criminals can very easily become Duncansville’s criminals.

If the position is cut to part time, how will the new chief be able to patrol as an officer and also take care of the requisite paperwork, reports, meetings and other duties that go along with being a chief, Lykens asked. “I don’t know how the chief now gets all his work done,” Lykens said.

Earlier in the meeting, Councilman Dave Shaw said the borough was $26,000 over budget for the year and said the council would “have to decide what to do with the police department” and indicated it came down to making cuts or raising taxes.

When council returned from its executive session, several votes were taken to take steps toward finding a new chief — including advertising for candidates and promoting a current officer, Patrolman William Rhoades, to lieutenant with the status of “officer in charge” in Ott’s absence.

When Council President Cynthia Blontz looked for motions to approve advertising for a part-time/full-time chief, the small audience began peppering the council with questions about what it would be — full time or part time.

“It will be advertised as part-time/full-time and we will see what out choices are,” Cynthia Blontz said, adding she wanted it to be full-time but could not speak for the rest of the council.

Councilwoman April Cramer said council was not leaning either way but simply wanted applicants “before it’s too late.”

“I talked about it back in June,” she said in response to criticism from the handful of residents that remained at the meeting.

“It should have been acted on,” Ed Blontz said.

Ott said after the meeting that the initial search yielded four candidates. Two decided not to pursue the position, one was not qualified and the fourth turned down a conditional offer from the personnel committee a week ago, Ott said.

Ott said he spoke to council in June and urged the members to start the search so a new chief could come on board as early as possible.

“It’s been a bit frustrating,” Ott said. “This was hoped to have been a smooth transition. It’s not going to be at this point. If we had started this back in June, we would be further ahead, and we could have been training someone.”

Ott has served as police chief since 1999 and oversees seven part-time officers. He has been with the department as an officer since March 1998.

Council meets again on Nov. 29.

Mirror Staff Writer Greg Bock is at 946-7458.