Unanimous vote preceded by tally to accept resignation of predecessor
By Kathleen Brady Shea, Managing Editor, The Times
Coatesville’s reorganization meeting included a unanimous vote to hire State Police Major John “Jack” W. Laufer as the city’s next police chief, capping a circuitous search process.
The 7-0 vote was preceded by discussion about whether the city had received the resignation of Stephen T. Johnson, a former deputy commissioner of the Philadelphia Police Department who was hired less than two months ago.
“I would hate for us to end up with two police chiefs,” said newly reelected Council President David C. Collins. “I don’t think the budget could handle that.”
City Manager Kirby Hudson said he had spoken twice to Johnson in the past two weeks. He said Johnson, who received a cancer diagnosis right after his swearing-in on Dec. 10, had hoped that he might be able to perform the job with a reduced workweek. After consulting with several doctors, that option seemed impractical, Hudson said, adding that he accepted Johnson’s resignation over the phone. He said Johnson had also promised to follow up with a resignation letter, which the city had not yet received.
On the advice of City Solicitor John Carnes, City Council voted 7-0 to accept Johnson’s resignation and then voted a second time to approve Laufer as the next police chief.
Laufer could not be reached for comment. Collins said the vote would enable Laufer to give his notice to the state police and start sometime within the next 30 days.
The vote marked a dramatic difference from the contentious meeting in September when Laufer was presented to City Council as a top choice not only of Hudson but also of a high-profile search committee. Laufer withdrew his name after divisive exchanges during the 3 ½-hour meeting resulted in a 3-1 vote, which failed to approve him because it did not represent a majority of the seven-member group.
When an effort to get Laufer to reconsider fell short, the search committee reconvened and identified Johnson as another well-qualified candidate for the $90,000-a-year post. Johnson was unanimously approved by City Council in November and sworn in Dec. 10 but has not been on the job.
According to published reports, Laufer’s numerous heroics began even before he became a police officer. In 1985, he was shopping at the Springfield Mall when he disarmed Sylvia Seegrist, a paranoid schizophrenic who had opened fire, killing three and wounding seven others. Six months later, the former construction worker became a cadet with the state police, working his way up the ranks.
Laufer was the commander of the Lancaster state police barracks the day that Charles Roberts bound 10 young girls at the West Nichol Mines School and then opened fire, killing five; once again, Laufer was lauded for his handling of the tragedy. Most recently, he has directed the state police Bureau of Training and Education, overseeing new recruits.
The police-chief vacancy in Coatesville dates back to July when the city’s former chief, Julius M. Canale, ended his day-to-day contract with the city after taking an early-retirement option in May. Since then, the city has generated criticism for its delay in finding a permanent leader for a department that has been plagued with litigation.
In August, City Council appointed James Bell, a former director of public safety at Cheyney University, as interim chief. That choice prompted a no-confidence vote from the police union because Bell lacked Act 120 certification, which is required to carry a gun or make an arrest. Bell ended his tenure the week after Johnson’s swearing-in.