PBA: "The straw that broke the camel's back"

Gwen Chamberlain

The president of the Penn Yan Police Benevolent Association (PBA) says the Christmas Eve incident at Lloyd’s Limited was the straw that broke the camel’s back in terms of relationships between PBA members and elected officials in the village.

As president of the PBA, Penn Yan Police Sgt. Michael Donovan signed a letter that was presented to Mayor Douglas Marchionda Jr. and members of the village board at the Jan. 15 board meeting.

“Obviously, we’re upset or we wouldn’t have brought up the issue,” said Donovan on Jan. 17. He says there have been a number of problems between the PBA and the elected officials since former police chief Steve Hill retired in the fall of 2006.

Police Chief Gene Mitchell says the PBA had wanted him to address the organization’s concerns at an executive session with the village board on Jan. 15, but Marchionda denied Mitchell’s request for an executive session.

The letter presented at the Jan. 15 meeting said the PBA members feel the mayor violated a New York State Statute when he ordered a police officer to not enforce a section of the State Alcoholic Beverage Control Law on Dec. 24.

Donovan says he was unable to attend the meeting because he was involved with an adult learning class at Keuka College, and could not leave. “Believe me, I wanted to be there (at the meeting),” he said on Jan. 17.

The letter, which was read aloud by PBA Vice President Jeff Stewart in Donovan’s absence, said, “We believe that the actions of the mayor were unprofessional and irresponsible.”

Eight uniformed police officers attended the village board meeting and asked Marchionda to explain his position.

Upon receiving the letter before the meeting, Marchionda asked Police Officer Jeff Morehouse to meet privately with him in the executive session room, delaying the beginning of the regular meeting for several minutes. Morehouse was listed on the meeting’s agenda because he had requested the PBA be added to the agenda to make a presentation during the meeting.

When the two returned to the meeting, Marchionda said there would be no need for Police Chief Gene Mitchell to meet with the board in executive session, as Mitchell had previously requested, and Mitchell would not be permitted to speak during the regular session.

Marchionda attempted to keep Stewart from reading the letter, saying it contained misinformation.

And after the meeting, when asked to identify which portions of the letter were incorrect, Marchionda said, “All of it.”

In a lengthy, emotional response to the letter during the meeting, Marchionda said, “This is so far from the truth. The PBA chose to blindside me with confidential information from a conversation with the police chief. I take incredible offense to this.”

Later he spoke about the harm that’s been done to friendships he valued with police officers that he has known for many years, and commented that while it’s clear to him they don’t respect him as a person through this action, he expects them to at least respect the position of mayor.

Marchionda said Police Chief Gene Mitchell shared confidential information from a private conversation when he told members of the PBA a comment Marchionda allegedly made to Police Officer Michael Rago. (For details on the Dec. 24 incident, see related story).

He told the police officers he had not spoken to Mitchell since Dec. 24, and he informed Mitchell he would learn specific information about his (Marchionda’s) position at a meeting on Jan. 16 at 1 p.m. between Mitchell, Marchionda, Village Attorney Ed Brockman and Public Safety Chair Nancy Taylor.

He told the PBA members, “You folks have set the tone of how we will deal with this. I will deal with the chief and he will follow the chain of command.”

With that, police officer Keith Woodard said he felt Marchionda did not follow a chain of command with his actions on Dec. 24. He also told Marchionda the PBA members felt they were addressing the issue in the proper manner by attending the meeting and reading the letter.

“You’ve blind-sided me. You’ve called me unprofessional. You’ve set the tone and now we move forward,” responded Marchionda. The eight officers, as a group, left the meeting following the exchange.

Asked a few days later if he regretted responding to the PBA during the public meeting rather than privately, or later through a written response, Marchionda said no, that he felt the officers needed to see how strongly he felt about the issue.