An attorney representing Hollidaysburg Borough Police Chief Jeffrey Ketner, who was inexplicably placed on paid leave late last week, said Monday the Hollidaysburg Borough Council made "a big mistake" and is hopeful "reasonable minds" on council will put the veteran police chief back on the job.
Attorney Michael Wagner said while he didn't want to go into the specifics regarding Thursday night's closed door Borough Council meeting that resulted in Ketner being placed on paid leave, he did say the process was flawed in that Ketner was denied due process and the borough had no legal basis for its action.
After the Mirror incorrectly reported Saturday based on sources that Ketner had been fired, the borough's labor attorney, Dave Andrews, said Saturday that Ketner was actually put on paid leave.
Despite numerous attempts to reach borough officials and council members on Friday, including a call to Councilman Joe Dodson - that ended after Dodson hung up on the reporter without comment after being asked about Ketner - there was no public acknowledgment that Ketner was no longer at the helm of the police department.
Andrews did not confirm Saturday how long Ketner will be on leave but said he will receive full pay and benefits.
Wagner said Ketner's reputation is impeccable, and there is no legitimate reason to place him on leave. Wagner also said he believed that the way it was handled by the borough left people in Hollidaysburg dismayed and unfairly cast a shadow of suspicion on Ketner.
This comes despite the fact there is nothing to be suspicious about given Ketner's track record as someone who has always put the community's safety first and handled his duties in a fair and firm manner, Wagner said.
"Chief Ketner has always been by-the-book and above reproach," he said.
Wagner declined to get into specifics of what council confronted Ketner with Thursday night, but he did say he believed there were "improper political considerations that may have played a role."
Andrews told the Mirror on Saturday that Ketner was on leave as of Friday, although Wagner pointed out Ketner's leave started immediately Thursday night.
Wagner said he believes council violated the Sunshine Law and took action behind the backs of the residents of Hollidaysburg and is hopeful council will address and correct the borough's mistake.
Borough officials confirmed Monday that the decision to place Ketner on leave was made during an executive session called after Thursday night's Borough Council meeting. Council President Joseph Pompa publicly stated to those in attendance that council would not take action after the executive session.
Borough secretary Patricia Duron said she was not present at the session and does not have official voting information for the meeting minutes. Duron also said Borough Manager Mark Schroyer was not present at the executive session Thursday night.
It could not be confirmed Monday if a vote was taken at the executive session. If that were the case, the decision to put Ketner on leave would be a violation of the state's Sunshine law, which requires such official actions to be made in public, said Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel for the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association.
When asked what Ketner was presented with by the borough, Wagner declined to say. He did say he believed the borough's actions were not only outside the bounds of due process, but beyond the bounds of any legal advice.
"I think they tried to convey to Chief Ketner what I think was a pretext," Wagner said.
"I think that there were improper political considerations that may have played a role in the context that Chief Ketner did not do anything wrong to be placed on leave," Wagner added.
Still, Ketner's attorney said there are reasonable members on council who have the community's best interests at heart, and he is optimistic the borough will correct its mistake.
Andrews also declined to explain why Ketner had been placed on leave.
Wagner said he believes Andrews is trying to make the best of a bad situation and said he hopes the borough's attorneys will approach Ketner to find out, "How do we fix this?"
"I think the ball is in their court," Wagner said.
"Hopefully, there will be a desire to get back to business and desire to make Chief Ketner whole and allow him to do his job," Wagner said, pointing out that there has been a groundswell of dismay and concern among residents who like and respect Ketner and felt safe knowing he was in charge of the police department.
If the borough continues on its present course, Wagner said he wouldn't be surprised to see a fair number of residents at the next Borough Council meeting.
"As far as the community is concerned, he's still the chief - and should be," Wagner said.