North Huntingdon appoints police chief |

North Huntingdon appoints police chief

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

Township commissioners voted 4-1 Wednesday to promote Robert Rizzo from sergeant to chief, ending a nine-month search for someone to lead the department. Rizzo has been in charge since former Lt. Rod Mahinske retired at the end of May.

“We are in the process of restructuring the department,” Rizzo said.

His family and a large contingent of the 25-member police department attended the meeting.

Rizzo, who received a five-year contract, said he first plans to hire four officers to get the department back to 29 officers and work on the budget for 2019. The township also will promote officers to the ranks of lieutenant and sergeant, he said.

As chief, Rizzo will earn $118,750 a year, said Jeff Silka, township manager. The salary includes longevity pay that Rizzo has accrued through 28 years of service.

Commissioner Brian Blasko, who cast the lone vote in opposition to Rizzo’s appointment, said he was against the salary, and not the person.

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

The commissioners this year budgeted $103,000 for the chief position.

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

Commissioners David Herold and Fran Bevan were absent, 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 job after the township launched its search in January.

Mahinske had taken over the department when commissioners voted 4-3 to fire Lisiecki 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 federal lawsuit against the township over his firing. Lisiecki had that he was wrongfully terminated 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 it was a mere coincidence that Rizzo was hired shortly after the settlement was reached. Haigis, board president, said that while he was not in favor of the settlement, it was the decision of the township’s liability insurer. 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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