Last month, at Upland Borough’s Council meeting, Council President Christine Peterson gave a tearful response to the surge of recent reports on the controversies surrounding the borough.
The Valentine’s Day meeting went smoothly, with Paul Michalkiewicz being sworn-in as an Upland fire police officer, followed by the usual order of business.
It wasn’t until the final public comment portion that the Council meeting became tense with longtime resident and former Mayor Jesse Richardson questioning Council on the string of events that have made recent headlines.
At the podium before Council, Richardson went through a folder that held a compilation of newspaper articles reporting on recent happenings in the borough; many of the clippings were from The Spirit.
Using the clipped articles as reference, Richardson asked, “Who authorized payment?” for the police evaluation report conducted in 2015 by Capt. Gregory A. Warren, Ed.D, and the Strategic Management Research Center, LLC (SMRC).
The former mayor also inquired about the report being withheld from the public.
“Yes, the borough paid for it,” current Upland Mayor Michael Ciach said, adding that the evaluation cost roughly $6,000. “A Right-to-Know request was denied and very few people have it. That report has sensitive personnel information and should not have been released.”
In the 2015 evaluation, among the areas of improvement recommended in the Upland Borough Police Department, Warren wrote that Peterson’s dual role as councilperson and secretary of the police department “could be a conflict of interest,” which prompted Richardson’s question about the legality of Peterson’s ability to currently hold two paid borough positions.
In response, Ciach said he went to Harrisburg to petition for the allowance of borough officials to occupy two paid positions to compensate for having a small workforce as a result of the town’s equally small population. Under the law, according to Ciach, some members of Council were grandfathered into the ability to hold multiple positions while the borough’s population hovered below a maximum of 3,000. To date, the population has risen to a little over 3,200 and Peterson is the only remaining person maintaining the dual positions.
Peterson said she always abstains from voting on police matters and that she “was never just a councilperson.”
“I was always Council vice-president (before being Council president) and I worked at the police department for free; I worked part-time for 40 hours a week.” Peterson said, growing agitated.
Richardson then asked about The Spirit’s article about former Upland Police Chief Nelson Ocasio’s EEOC complaint against the borough in which retired Chester Police Commissioner Joseph Bail, Jr. said that Peterson quipped, in a restaurant sometime ago, “First a nigger and now a spic?” in response to learning that Ocasio, the county’s first Latino police chief, would succeed then-Upland Police Chief John Easton, who is Black.
“I don’t believe you said those things,” Richardson said reassuringly to Peterson.
“I didn’t,” Peterson said. “I have a person who was able to prove that I didn’t say that, but it’s funny how the reporter allowed other people’s sources to go on the record and not mine.”
“It’s just getting ridiculous; I’m tired of getting attacked every week,” Peterson said in tears. “It’s b—s—-!”
However, it was Peterson herself who prevented that person from publicly disproving Bail’s statements.
Prior to publication of the article, The Spirit contacted Peterson to ask about Bail’s recollection and she denied saying it.
“I want you to talk to somebody who can prove that I would never say those things,” Peterson told a reporter before passing the phone to her friend, who she said is Black.
The friend, a man who will remain unidentified, adamantly denied the plausibility of Peterson’s alleged statements. Peterson’s friend went on to say that Peterson has always been a “really good friend” to him and without her he would “probably be in jail or sleeping on the streets.”
When the reporter asked the friend if he wished to provide comments on the record for the article, the friend stammered, but Peterson quickly returned on the line and said, “No, I couldn’t put him through that.”
After the meeting adjourned, Peterson told the borough solicitor, “And I can’t stand that reporter.” The reporter attempted to question Peterson about her comments, but Peterson warned the reporter not to come near her and refused to answer any questions.