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North Huntingdon appoints police chief

251419SgtRobertRizzo

For the first time since September 2016, North Huntingdon has a police chief, a 28-year veteran of the force who has been the officer in charge of the department since June.

Sgt. Robert Rizzo was appointed chief in a 4-1 vote Thursday by the North Huntingdon Commissioners, ending a nine-month search for the officer to lead the department. Rizzo has been in charge of the department since former Lt. Rod Mahinske retired at the end of May.

“We are in the process of restructuring the department,” Rizzo said after receiving the congratulations from township officials, his family and a large contingent of the 25-member police department that packed the meeting room.

Rizzo said his first order of business will be hiring four officers to increase the department to the previous high point of 29 officers, as well as working on the budget for 2019. The township also will be promoting officers to the ranks of lieutenant and sergeant, he said.

The new chief will be paid an annual salary of $118,750, said Jeff Silka, township manager. The salary includes his longevity pay that he has accrued through 28 years of service.

Commissioner Brian Blasko, the lone commissioner to oppose Rizzo’s appointment, said his vote was against the salary offered the new chief, and not the person.

”You’ve done fantastic job. You’ve grabbed the bull by the horns,” Blasko said.

But, Blasko said the salary offered Rizzo was more than the $103,000 that had been budgeted for the chief this year.

“We set the budget and we have to adhere to that,” Blasko said.

Commissioners David Herold and Fran Bevan were absent from the meeting, but Bevan stated in a letter read at the meeting that Rizzo has shown “superb leadership” since he took charge. Bevan wrote that she looked forward to him “making the police department whole again.”

Mahinske, along with Rizzo, were among the officers who applied for the chief’s job when the township launched its search in January..

Mahinske had taken over the department when the township fired former chief Andrew Lisiecki in a controversial 4-3 vote in September 2016. Lisiecki had been the police chief in Green Tree when he was hired in May 2012.

Rizzo’s hiring came almost two weeks after it was announced that Lisieski had agreed to a $600,000 settlement of his December 2016 federal lawsuit against the township over his firing. Lisiecki had contended in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh that he was wrongfully terminate as part of a political dispute. His attorney, Timothy O’Brien, claimed it was one of the largest settlements ever paid to a law enforcement official in his situation in Western Pennsylvania.

Commissioner Zachary Haigis said was a mere coincidence that Rizzo was hired shortly after the settlement was reached. Haigis, president of the board, said that while he was not in favor of the settlement, it was the decision by the township liability insurer to reach the settlement. The township could have lost in court, Haigis said.

The police department is “100 percent better” than it previously had been, said Commissioner Anthony Martino, one of the commissioners who voted to fire Lisiecki.

Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe at 724-836-5252 or [email protected]

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