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Inquiry into payments to Lackawanna police chief hits snag

The ongoing inquiry into questionable payments made to Lackawanna Police Chief James L. Michel hit a snag recently after assistant city counsel James Balcarczyk II failed to pick up the case file from Barclay Damon, the outside attorneys fired by the city late last year.

“We were assured by in-house counsel that he would handle it and nothing has been done,” said Third Ward Councilman Joseph Jerge. “He still has not picked up the file from Barclay Damon. We are blown away.”

Lackawanna lawmakers hired outside counsel in spring 2015 to investigate compensation totaling between $36,000 to $45,000 for sick pay and overtime paid to Michel between 2011 and 2013. The decision to hire outside attorneys was made after City Counsel Antonio Savagilo recused himself citing prior representation of Michel.

“In February Balcarczyk was adamant he needed the file, and here we are in April and he still has not picked it up,” said Council President Keith Lewis. It needs to be picked up. He needs the file to defend the city against the lawsuits filed by Michel. Secondly he needs it to continue the investigation started by Barclay Damon.

The suit against Lackawanna is for “disciplinary action” taken against Michel, alleging that the city acted without a hearing to reduce his base pay and eliminate past and future benefits including vacation days, longevity pay, and gas and car expense for a city-issued vehicle.

The city fired Barclay Damon in December because the legal fees were getting out of hand, several council members said. Installment payments to Barclay Damon were twice vetoed by Mayor Geoff Szymanski.

In February when a final invoice of $8,071 was submitted for approval, lawmakers tabled the measure to study the invoice. The final installment eventually was paid in March. It pushed the city’s legal bill to more than $70,000.

“The police chief needs to go through the proper channels,” said Jerge. “I don’t think what he did was criminal, but if he accepted money that he should not have received he needs to pay it back. The attorneys at Barclay Damon believe there is a case but they also estimated it could cost the city another $100,000 to see it through. Not picking up the file validates our concerns about our attorney sitting on the case in the first place. Here we are again, with no movement,” said Jerge.

“What is the holdup?” Lewis asked. “The counsel gave him the opportunity to bring it back in-house and we’re back at square one.”

First Ward Council Member Abdulsalam K. Noman needed answers.

“We cannot figure out why our attorney is taking so long to get the materials. Now we’re stuck. The police chief is suing the city and we need to defend ourselves. This is not working. Something is not right here.”