Bell sworn as interim city police chief

Simpson resigns as council president; city facing $2M deficit

By Jamie Richard, Staff Writer, The Times

Interim Chief James Bell is sworn in by the Hon. Judge Gregory Hines as Dr. Tonya Thames Taylor serves as witness.

COATESVILLE – Interim chief of police James Bell was officially sworn in for duty at Monday’s city council meeting.

Bell was named interim chief of police at a council meeting on Aug. 13.  After being sworn in by the Hon. Judge Gregory Hines, members of council congratulated Bell and reaffirmed their faith in his abilities.

“I would like to acknowledge Chief Bell and the great job that he has been doing since his appointment and, as I stated previously, I do think he’s the right man for this job at this time,” said Councilperson C. Arvilla Hunt.

Only a few days prior to Monday’s meeting the city’s police union issued a vote of no confidence for both Bell and city council.  The union criticized the council’s hasty appointment of Bell, as well as their inaction to hire new part-time police officers.  Members of council responded to the vote of no confidence at the end of Monday’s meeting; Council Vice President Joseph Hamrick stated that the council was forced to make a quick decision and could not search for both an interim chief and a permanent chief at the same time.

“I don’t care what the (police union) has to say or the district attorney.  We, as a council, have confidence in Mr. Bell or else we wouldn’t have voted him in…we respect our citizens and we would never jeopardize their safety,” said Hamrick.

Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan has previously stated that police department is understaffed and made similar remarks when contacted about the vote of no confidence.

The police union also took issue with Bell’s qualifications.  The union stated that Bell does not possess Act 120 certification to serve as a police officer.  Bell countered that he is Act 120 certified, but is lacking the Act 180 updates to keep his certification valid.  The union also expressed concern that Bell has not served as a police chief in over a decade.  Prior to his appointment, Bell served as the director of public safety at Cheyney University.

Bell was unwilling to comment on the union’s vote of no confidence, but said he did not feel that it would have a negative effect on his ability to serve as interim chief.

Finance director John Marcarelli reported that the city is operating with a budget shortfall of nearly $2 million, a combination of lower-than-anticipated revenues, higher-than-expected legal fees and unbudgeted police costs, such as the severance packages for six senior officers who took an early-retirement buyout. Marcarelli recommended a transfer of $1.972 million from the city’s trust fund to close the gap.

In other business, Council President Ed Simpson resigned from his position as president of city council, citing health reasons.

“It’s not fair to the citizens of Coatesville not to have the representation here at the meetings.  So, I will be stepping down as president and taking some time off to get my issues under control,” said Simpson.

Simpson stated that he would only be resigning as president and not from council itself.

The council will vote on a new president at its next meeting.

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