July 23, 2016

Mostly clear

Brunswick Hills trustees to discuss police chief’s response to problems

BRUNSWICK HILLS TWP. — Township trustees will meet at 4 p.m. today to discuss Police Chief Sharon MacKay’s response to allegations of serious personnel and management problems within her department.

Trustee Michael Esber said the emergency meeting will be closed to the public.

Sharon MacKay

The meeting was called after The Gazette reported Saturday that David Zelenka, an attorney and former police officer hired June 26 to help MacKay administer the department, had resigned. Before quitting, Zelenka wrote a letter to trustees saying the department was an unsafe environment for its staff and the township.

Among his allegations were charges that the department’s evidence room was in disarray.

“Pieces of evidence from different decades were piled together,” Zelenka said in the letter. “Evidence of sex assault cases, narcotics, weapons, and trash were all piled up in a manner similar to that of a ‘hoarder.’ ”

Zelenka, the brother of Brunswick Hills officer Derek Zelenka, also criticized the behavior of several officers, including one sergeant he accused of trying to “frighten and intimidate officers under his command.”

While not claiming MacKay was the cause of the problems, Zelenka cites several instances where he said she failed to take timely corrective action, raising questions about her overall ability to manage her department.

MacKay rejected Zelenka’s allegations, describing the letter as “an inflammatory memo based primarily on hearsay.”

Her response came in an 11-page, single-spaced letter to trustees, which they requested after receiving Zelenka’s letter July 23.

Zelenka, who served as a police officer for four years in San Diego in addition to being a lawyer, had asked to meet with the trustees and resigned Aug. 1 after not receiving an answer.

In her response, MacKay accused Zelenka of assuming “that the bits of information he hears are all based in fact, are without prejudice, and are well-informed.”

She said he only was employed in the township for less than four weeks and, as a part-time officer, only worked 81.5 hours.

MacKay also highlighted actions she has taken to improve personnel issues, including arranging for sexual harassment training for the entire department and an audit of the evidence room through the Medina County Sheriff’s Office.

However, MacKay concedes that the department’s evidence room was in disarray for several years.

She also acknowledged that a sergeant was accused of actions that could be considered sexual harassment and officers have been suspended or reassigned during her three years as chief.

In one such instance, Officer Heather Stask failed to report when her K-9 officer bit a Brunswick city police officer, MacKay said.

Sgt. Chris Kovach has been the center of accusations or investigations for at least a half-dozen separate matters. Kovach was also removed from two area SWAT teams for not showing up to trainings and losing the trust of other officers, MacKay said.

Kovach’s management style — although “not against criminal or labor law” — ”has created animosity in some of his subordinates,” the chief said.

MacKay told The Gazette on Friday she has not done any evaluations of her officers in her tenure as chief.

Contact Jennifer Pignolet at (330) 721-4063 or jpignolet@medina-gazette.com.