Gallitzin balks on SERT
Council delays decision to allow Barton to join county team
GALLITZIN — For the second month in a row, Gallitzin Borough Council members delayed a decision about whether to allow a local officer to join a county team.
“Well, we’ll look at it next month,” Council President Sylvia Conway said.
Conway was referring to a request made by local police officer Gil Barton, who, last month, asked to join the Cambria County Specialized Emergency Response Team.
The team, which is typically called SERT, responds to “high risk” emergencies, such as standoffs and hostage situations.
Last month, Barton said the county SERT was in need of new members, and leaders asked him to join.
For him to join, council members would have to approve an intergovernmental agreement with the county.
Last month, they were reluctant to grant approval, citing worries that Barton’s SERT participation would take him away from borough duties.
“It’s good that he does all this training,” Councilman Phillip Mazzarese said last month. “I like the fact that he knows all of this stuff, but we can’t cut the people’s time in town.”
Local Police Chief Gerald Hagen said the same.
“I agree … but I’d rather have an officer working the street than a smart officer sitting at home,” he said. “He’s trained to do everything, but he’s never here.”
Hagen had originally signed off on Barton’s SERT participation, but, on Wednesday, he said his mind has changed.
At the time of his original signing, Hagen did not read some of the stipulations listed in the intergovernmental agreement, he said.
On Wednesday, Hagen especially took issue with a line that stipulated that Barton must have served seven years as an officer in Cambria County in order to participate in SERT. Barton has only worked in the county for four years, he said.
“You can’t ask the chief to sign onto something that isn’t true,” borough solicitor David Consiglio said addressing Barton, who has repeatedly pushed for council’s approval.
Language in the agreement was an issue last month, too. Then, council members took issue with a passage that seemed to suggest that the borough would have to pay Barton’s wages when he participated with SERT.
“Each participating agency furnishing members … shall compensate its members during all callouts and training as per their contractual agreements … and shall assume the actual travel and maintenance expenses of its members while they are training and assisting, putting any amounts paid or due for compensation,” it read, according to Consiglio.
Barton repeatedly stressed that the language was incorrect and that the borough would be reimbursed for his time with SERT. And county solicitor Bill Barbin later confirmed that reimbursement is available via a grant through the Cambria County District Attorney’s Office.
Barton continued to argue that language in the agreement was incorrect at Wednesday’s meeting, referring to an email that makes corrections.
But the email does not trump the agreement, Consiglio said, adding that county officials should work to clear the confusion.
“They really ought to do this over,” he said. “It doesn’t say what the email says.”
At one point, Barton passed a note to Consiglio, which apparently contained some relevant information.
But council members had already agreed to postpone further discussions about SERT until next month.
That frustrated Barton, who said further discussions would take “3 seconds.”