BUTLER TOWNSHIP — Retire now or stick around and possibly be fired – that, according to Butler Township Police Chief John Cresie, was the choice he faced.
On Monday, he chose to retire in a move that has sent shock waves across Butler Township.
In his letter to the Board of Trustees, Cresie was critical of newly elected Trustee Joe Flanagan and his ally on the three-person board, Trustee Nick Brusky.
“(The Board) is making decisions that negatively affect the entire Township based upon their personal agendas and political expediency, wrote Cresie in a letter dated January 4.”
In a wide-ranging interview on Wednesday, Cresie elaborated and said he believed the pair of Trustees would move to fire him – just as they did Administrator Kim Lapensee in December.
“I have a 34-year in law enforcement, and a sterling reputation,” said Cresie. “I wouldn’t want to go out with a cloud over my name or reputation due to vague accusations or no specific allegations like they did with Kim.”
Lapensee resigned in December after Flanagan sent her a letter demanding that she resign or else face termination once he took office. Lapensee negotiated a severance package that will cost the Township over $106,000 paid as a lump sum.
“Kim’s firing was done totally inappropriately, unfairly, and unprofessionally,” said Cresie. “There were vague innuendos, vague accusations, and no specific charges that she could defend herself from. It was initiated, and completed, before Trustee Flanagan ever assumed his position. It was totally underhanded and not done in the proper matter. That one act decapitated the Township’s management team and everything is in an uproar and adrift.”
Board of Trustee President Mike Lang said Cresie was right to be concerned about his job.
“Flanagan, before he took office, couldn’t guarantee that the Chief’s head wouldn’t be on the chopping block in spite of the fact that he had never met Cresie and had never worked with him,” said Lang. “That was a pretty quick conclusion to draw.”
Cresie, when told that some in the township have called Lapensee’s method of termination character assassination, agreed that the term is a “fair description.”
“I’m very fortunate that I’m at a point in my life and my career that I can take a stand based on principles,” said Cresie.
In his retirement letter, Cresie wrote that his “personal (and professional) ethical standards will not allow me to support their agenda and I will not support their actions with my presence.”
Cresie believes that the political upheaval, and perceived instability, could make it difficult to keep and/or recruit quality police officers to Butler Township. He cited rumors that the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office will eventually assume police responsibilities as rampant among his officers, sheriff deputies they come in contact with, and among many township residents as one example that would make it difficult to recruit.
“Anyone can start a rumor, and once it gets started, it often grows, but that is certainly one of the challenges our officers are facing,” said Cresie. “There is a tremendous amount of uncertainty running through the department and the fact that the Administrator was dismissed and we have an interim Administrator, that is causing concern among the officers.”
Cresie said that four officers are currently seeking to test or have tested with other police agencies and are seeking to leave.
When asked directly if he believed that residents and police officers should be concerned about the police department being disbanded and the Sheriff’s Office moving in, Cresie was succinct.
“I’m concerned, and my officers are concerned,” he said. “Many residents have expressed their concerns to me. I don’t think it is out of the realm of possibility. It was discussed and researched by the Trustees before I got here.”
Lang said he has heard the rumors, and shares the concern expressed by Cresie and some residents.
“At the end of the day, it is the right of the residents to choose what type of policing they want,” said Lang. “I’ve not heard one person say they want to give up the identity of their local police department. What Flanagan and Brusky want to do at this point I have no idea and I have no idea what motivates their decision making at this point. It certainly don’t feel any of this is in the best interest of the residents.”
Flanagan has said that the Township is in such poor financial condition that staff cuts will be considered across all departments, including the police department. He called the combination of political and staff instability, budget problems, and unfavorable news headlines a “perfect storm.”
Cresie, however, said that doesn’t square with paying Lapensee a buyout that, in his view, was unnecessary and could lead to bigger problems.”
“Trustee Flanagan has talked about how bad shape the general fund is in and its possible depletion by 2017 or 2018 and then turns around and spends $106,000 to fire the Township Administrator and sends her on her way,” said Cresie. “Are we creating a perfect storm? It would seem so.”
Trustees Flanagan and Brusky did not return multiple calls seeking comments on Cresie’s retirement letter or his statements in this article.
“Silence makes a statement too,” said Cresie. “If they are afraid to talk to you one has to wonder why.”