Timothy Reilly, for the Times
The Lower Southampton Township Board of Supervisors wasted no time unanimously voting to dismiss Public Safety Director Robert Hoopes at its first meeting of the year last week.
Much more time was given to discussing how to avoid another hire like this one.
Hoopes, who became Public Safety Director only last February, was suspended without pay with intent to dismiss following his indictment in December on charges of money laundering.
Township Manager John McMenamin asserted that Hoopes had been contacted by phone and mailed a certified letter notifying him of the Board’s intended action.
Hoopes was informed of his right to attend the meeting in order to defend himself.
“He chose not to,” McMenamin stated, “and, therefore, it’s time for the Board to take action on Mr. Hoopes.”
Lt. Ted Krimmel, who assumed the duties of Public Safety Director after Hoopes’ suspension, will remain in place on an interim basis.
“I just want to say, what a wild past couple weeks,” said Chairman Patrick Irving. “It’s been very painful, but this is not Lower Southampton Township.”
After the session, Irving explained that the restrictions imposed on the Board by sunshine laws, as well as the normal disruption caused by the holiday season, impeded the Board’s ability to take formal action on Hoopes more quickly.
After the vote, the board discussed how to prevent similar situations in the future.
Supervisor Keith Wesley noted for the record the extensive process that was in place when the Board hired Hoopes. The search, coordinated by the township manager, solicitor and fire marshal, included multiple interviews and a criminal background check.
Vice Chairman Joseph McFadden affirmed: “When we made our decision 10 months ago, we went with the best information we had.”
However, said Wesley, “With all these measures in place, we got it wrong,” He wondered aloud if the Board should include a lie detector and Rorschach tests in future vetting processes.
Secretary/Treasurer Ed Shannon was more succinct. “It was a bad hire.”
Supervisor Kim Koutsouradis broached the possibility of creating a citizens committee to serve a consulting role in the hiring process.
He made the suggestion after Scott Marshall, a local citizen, inquired during public comment if the Board would seek public input in the hiring process.
Another possibility the board will explore is whether to eliminate the position of Public Safety Director, instead splitting the oversight of the police and fire departments.
In that event, the Board would hire a police chief. However, Wesley noted that tenure laws would take away the Board’s flexibility in quickly removing a police chief should the need arise.
It could leave the board, he warned, with “another Bobby Hoopes.”
Aside from whatever course is ultimately pursued, Irving sought to reassure the public.
“The Board will get this right,” he said.