4 vying for Greensburg mayor after police, former chief’s arrest shakes community


May 7 – Candidates for Greensburg mayor cite several issues they say they want to tackle – among them supporting Greensburg’s business community, improving downtown access and restoring citizens’ trust in the city’s police department which has been shaken by the recent arrests. officials.

The field is evenly split for those voting in the May 16 primary.

On the Democratic ballot, incumbent Robert L. “Rob” Bell faces a challenge from Jerry Vernell.

Bell, 66, is seeking his third term as mayor. He previously served on the City Planning Commission and the Parking Authority. He works in private industry as a National Project Manager.

Vernall, 60, has retired from a 37-year career in law enforcement. A member of the Greensburg Volunteer Fire Department, he served on the Greensburg police force from 1994 to 2015, rising to detective. He later worked as an agent in the state attorney general’s office, where he investigated drug and public corruption cases.

Seeking the Republican nomination are Jonathan O’Brien and Gerome Dominic Spino.

O’Brien, 52, is serving a four-year term on the Greensburg-Salem School Board. A former truck driver, he currently holds a maintenance position at a city authority Westmoreland County wastewater treatment plant.

Spino, 52, a former family physician and health care administrator, Dr. Spino is the program director for KIDS, a nonprofit whose mission, according to Spino, is to “bring mindfulness and mentoring to a vulnerable population.” The organization is named after the candidate’s late father, a longtime Greensburg physician.

Vernal said he decided to seek the mayor’s office in the wake of the arrest of three city police officers.

Former Delmont police chief Shawn Denning, 42, resigned after he was arrested by federal authorities in January, accused of acting as a middleman in connecting a confidential informant with drug suppliers in California.

Kenneth Burke, 36, of Greensburg, was arrested in July in connection with the domestic violence incident. His trial is set for August in Westmoreland County Court.

Robert Shapiro II, 50, of Latrobe, completed one year of probation for falsifying commercial truck inspections. He was arrested in 2016.

“I think we need stability and we need a strong police chief,” Vernall said of the city force, noting that there have been a series of five chiefs since leaving his department. Prior to Denning’s arrest, a series of retirements led to a change in the occupants of the Chief’s position.

“You have to come up with solid leadership, and that starts with the mayor,” Vernay said.

Speaking at a recent forum for city candidates organized by the Greensburg Business and Professional Association, Vernell called for police officers to have more visibility in the community.

During his time on the force, he said, “Monday through Friday, an officer was at businesses from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., and then in the evening, we were outside trouble bars. There were no shootings, and their There was no stabbing outside.”

O’Brien said he also wants to bring stability back to the police department. He suggested some related policies “need to be looked into.”

Still, he added, “We have a good police department here. One or two people don’t ruin everything.”

Spino proposed that city public safety professionals should have monthly “supervisory and individual case management meetings that are effective and well oriented to the needs of the professionals.”

Noting that he has grant-writing experience, Spino proposed at the candidate stage that the city “find some way for (officers) to get some training in the use of holds and other aspects that people report to the police.” Choose.”

All the candidates agreed that the current charges against the two city police officers should not reflect on the remaining members of the force.

But, Bell said, the cases nevertheless colored the public’s perception of the entire department.

Denning’s arrest “shook the entire department,” Bell told the attendees on stage. “It shook the entire law enforcement community, and it shook me very badly.

“The result was that 25 other (Greensburg) officers became victims. They were characterized as unreliable and lacking in integrity.”

But, he added, “They are really high quality individuals, and they just want to serve the community. All they know is that they have to rebuild their reputations.”

Bell said Greensburg officials participate in outreach activities that can build good relationships with residents at a young age, including a local elementary school and a Shop With a Coop program.

Bell and City Council members followed the recommendations of advisers from the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association when they recently went within the ranks of the Greensburg department to select the current chief, 18-year veteran Charles Irwin.

The department has “a very high discipline standard,” Bell said. “You step out of line, you’re going to be disciplined.”

Both Bell and O’Brien placed great importance on supporting the growth of Greensburg’s business community.

Greensburg has “grown a lot over the last four or five years,” O’Brien said. “I want to keep the revitalization going. I want more businesses to come here and do business with us. It helps everybody.”

O’Brien said he wants to encourage more young people to come to the city and patronize businesses.

He said on stage, “Once the courthouse moves out, most people leave town.”

He said he wanted to talk to business owners to hear about their concerns.

Vernell said he would also like to hear from the business owners.

After hearing many complaints about insufficient parking downtown, Vernell suggested that the city consider setting aside parking lots that would be designated to protect those businesses, “so that the court people don’t have to take them up all day.” “

Competition for downtown parking spots has increased since March 2022, when the two-story underground garage at the courthouse was closed for renovations. The work is expected to be completed in June.

Spino said parking concerns and getting parking tickets are among the barriers that can keep merchants and their customers from doing business downtown.

“Businesses don’t need to nickel-and-dime,” he said.

On stage, Spino said that helping to promote Greensburg’s business community “is huge to me. I want everybody to shop there and spend money.”

“But is money the answer? No,” he said. “Character is the answer; leadership is the answer; money helps.”

“My top priority is to continue the momentum of growth and development within the Greensburg business district,” Bell said at the Forum. “It has been my main objective in the past and it will be my main objective going forward.”

Bell said the city has secured funding to develop a downtown master plan, with input through workshops and seminars to be included as an important part of that effort.

“To help small businesses, we need to continue filling Main Street,” he said.

Jeff Himmler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jeff by email [email protected] or via twitter.

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