November May Be Too Soon For Police Vote

Several members of the Bellevue police merger referendum committee have begun expressing doubts about whether it is possible for a referendum to be successful this November, after committee members heard from residents and the borough’s solicitor over the last two weeks.

Solicitor Mike Georgalas told the committee at its May 4 meeting that Bellevue Council would have to hold a hearing in June on the proposed referendum to amend the borough’s home rule charter to eliminate the requirement that Bellevue maintain its own police department headed by a mayor. Officials hope to place a referendum on the November general election ballot that will give Bellevue Council the authority to decide if and when the borough’s police department should be consolidated with those of one or more neighboring municipalities. Only Bellevue voters have the power to approve the necessary charter amendment.

Georgalas also noted that Council would have to pass a measure approving the referendum by July.
"We’re already almost out of time," noted Council president Rich Furis.

He and Safety Committee chairman Ron Deer agreed that, in talking to Bellevue residents over the past weeks, they do not seem inclined to approve the referendum. Deer said that some residents he spoke with "have the wrong idea about what we’re doing."

The unsuccessful ballot referendum of 1994, which sought authority to consolidate the Bellevue and Avalon police departments, was supported by a very specific plan that resulted from three studies and nearly two years of work by representatives of the boroughs. The measure was defeated by a handful of votes following an intensive door-to-door campaign against consolidation.

Georgalas was doubtful that the new referendum would be approved on the ballot without a similar plan to present to residents.

"I think you’re going to have a difficult time selling a consolidation to people without them knowing [the details]," Georgalas said.

Furis agreed that the referendum that would give Bellevue Council the authority to consolidate the borough’s police department is closely linked in people’s minds to the consolidation itself.

"I don’t think they can separate the authority from the actual implementation," Furis said. "It’s like saying, ‘Well, give me the authority and I’ll figure out what I can do with it later.’"

Furis noted that Bellevue Council is juggling a number of work-intensive matters, and does not have the time to devote all its energy to convincing voters to approve the referendum. With more time, he said, the committee could conduct some research and hopefully begin work with other North Boroughs officials.

Bellevue mayor Paul Cusick has maintained that neighboring officials are reluctant to devote resources to developing a plan for a consolidated police department only to have it shot down by Bellevue voters.

"I don’t know how you’re going to do it if they won’t sit down and talk," he said.

Deer, however, said that he had spoken with Avalon Council Public Safety Committee chairman Patrick Narcisi, and Furis recently spoke with Avalon Council president Ed Klicker. Both were interested in talking, the Bellevue officials said, although Furis repeated Klicker’s warning that Bellevue should not assume that the plan that was proposed 10 years ago was something Avalon would agree to today.

The Bellevue committee members agreed that having a commitment to consolidating police departments from other boroughs would go a long way toward convincing Bellevue voters to approve the referendum. To that end, officials from Avalon, Ben Avon and Emsworth were to be invited to the committee’s next meeting.

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