Gilberton council ready to decide controversial chief's fate following closed-door hearing

Mark Kessler's attorney says they'll appeal if he's fired

Published: Dec 24 2013 07:45:33 AM EST   Updated On: Sep 19 2013 08:11:38 PM EDT
GILBERTON, Pa. -

A police chief in Schuylkill County who got into trouble over YouTube videos showing him firing semi-automatic weapons and screaming profanities will learn his fate this evening.

Gilberton Police Chief Mark Kessler, whose 30-day suspension on July 31 was made indefinite before he could return to work, responded to allegations against him during an hourlong meeting Thursday morning before Mayor Mary Lou Hannon and the borough's legal advisor.

After the meeting inside a room at the borough wastewater treatment plant, the chief stood by silently as his attorney, Joseph Nahas, said the allegations were "bald-faced lies" intended to make a case for Kessler's termination that did not depend on the chief's controversial videos.

Nahas said if the chief were fired on the basis of the charges, he would file a wrongful termination lawsuit.

According to Nahas, Kessler is accused of not submitting Uniform Crime Reports with the FBI in a timely fashion, even though he was given a 30-day extension to do so by the mayor.

Nahas said Kessler did not have access to the information he needed to file the reports because he was under suspension.

Another charge against the chief is that he illegally got a discount when he purchased tires for his HumVee, Nahas said.

Nahas pointed out that Kessler had permission from borough council to buy the tires because he used his own vehicle for police business, adding Kessler did so because because the borough police car wasn't working.

Nahas said council member Lloyd George, testifying for Kessler, refute the allegation over the tire purchase, and that George's son, Lloyd George Jr., who runs a service station in town, testified that Kessler "paid for all costs [connected] to his vehicle ".

Kessler is also facing an accusation that he did not turn over weapons to the borough, Nahas said.

Kessler chose to surrender the weapons to the ATF and the U.S. Attorney's Office because he was "not comfortable" handing them over to the borough or the state police, Nahas said.

As for the accusation that Kessler acted in "a vulgar manner" toward council members in a video posted on the Internet, Nahas said the borough "was unable to prove anything" that Kessler did was "degrading to council."

Nahas said he asked that council recuse itself from Kessler's case and have the Court of Common Please appointed a board of arbitrators to decide the matter, but his reuest was denied.

Before leaving, Kessler thanked his backers for their "truly inspiring" support.

before Gilberton Borough Council, explaining why he should not be fired.
began his meeting with borough council .

An hour before the meeting started, about two dozen Kessler supporters -- several carry firearms and clad in militia garb -- held an informal rally at a park adjacent to the treatment plant.

The rally was more of a meet-and-greet, with Kessler, dressed in a charcoal gray suit and dotted tie, answering questions about his political future -- he's running as an independent write-in candidate for county sheriff -- and his belief that many young voters are registering as independents because of their dissatisfaction with the Democratic and Republican parties.

Around 9:35 a.m., Kessler took questions from the dozen or so media members on hand.

He said he "absolutely" expected to be fired today; that his initial support from the borough mayor was "smoke and mirrors," and that he had not made a decision about taking legal action against the borough.

He also quoted his father as saying: "You can only kick a dog for so long before it bites." Then he added, " And this boy boy's been kicked long enoughh."

Kessler said he was a Republican for 10 years, "so I could vote in the primaries."

Before that, he said he was an independent.

"When I got married, I switched over, because my wife's family are staunch Republicans," he noted.

As for his own political fortunes, "I don't believe I need the blessing of any party. ... I'll vote for myself, and if anybody else wants to vote for me, so be it."

Kessler admitted his Facebook page now has a gentler tone, which he attributed to a "heart to heart" he had with Pastor George Cook.

Cook, whom Kessler described as a "Christianic Jew," raised more than $2,500 in donations for Kessler during his suspension through a Web site. The money was to cover Kessler's grocery bills, his mortgage and his legal fees.

Kessler critic Gene Stilp, of Marysville, Perry County, who was on hand in July when the chief was suspended, showed up Thursday to distribute materials calling for Kessler's ouster, including a handout that read, Do Not Vote For "off the Mark" Kessler.

As in July, Kessler supporters were infuriated by Stilp's actions, and a lively debate ensued.

Stilp said Kessler's videos used "intimidation to incite violence, and that's what I'm opposed to."

Kessler's supporters said Stilp was accusing a man he did not even know, and taunted him by saying he was in the pay of the United Nations and President Obama.