An apparently long-standing practice of Lower Makefield Township paying police officers the remainder of their salary when they are on disability is raising questions about how taxpayer dollars are being handled.
According to records obtained through right-to-know requests brought by resident Tim Daly, the township paid an officer for three years while he was not reporting for duty.
That officer, Michael Pell, who is no longer on the police force as of September 2023, received a salary of more than $112,000 per year, according to township payroll records.
A whistleblowing township employee told DVJournal that Pell had suffered a stroke in May 2020 and was unable to qualify to handle a firearm. Officers must qualify annually with their firearm, according to a spokesman for the Pennsylvania State Police. Township records show that Pell last took the firearms exam in 2019.
Pell had been a D.A.R.E. officer who visited schools and warned students about the dangers of drug use, and the community outreach officer. He also did administrative jobs for Chief Kenneth Coluzzi.
When Pell first had a stroke, he was temporarily placed on sick leave. However, according to a township employee familiar with the situation, Pell’s name was then returned to the duty roster despite the fact that he never returned to the job. Other employees who asked about Pell were warned to “shut up.”
“He was not in the building, and he was 100 percent not working,” the source said. “Mike Pell was getting paid his regular salary as if he was there every day.”
“They defrauded the people of Lower Makefield since May of 2020 until he retired on the 28th of September of this year,” the source claimed.
Those allegations are wrong, Coluzzi said.
Coluzzi readily admitted that the township was paying Pell, but said it was long-standing policy for police officers out on disability to be made “whole.”
Coluzzi explained that the short-term and long-term disability only pay 66 1/3 of an officer’s salary and the township then pays the remainder.
“It’s a long-standing provision the township has,” said Coluzzi. “A practice the township has, probably for 30 years. Nothing underhanded. There is a possibility the township may revisit that in the future.”
So, over the course of three years the township apparently paid Pell $113,232, plus benefits and pension.
Pell told a different story to DVJournal.
“I had a stroke, a very severe stroke,” said Pell. “We have a disability clause in our contract. I was paid through our insurance company.”
Township manager David Kratzer Jr. said, “ I have discussed this matter with the township solicitor. Recognizing that this is an ongoing personnel issue, I’ve been advised that no public comment can be made at this time.”
However, Kratzer sent an email to employees in August 2023 to clarify the township’s disability policy, saying it was governed by the contract for union employees.
“For unionized employees or those employees covered by an employment agreement, the level of benefits is provided consistent with the negotiated terms and conditions of the applicable agreement (s),” the memo said.
In an August 2023 letter to Pell, obtained through right-to-know requests, Kratzer said, “…prior to your return to work, you will be expected to meet all applicable and expected commonwealth and departmental requirements as determined by each entity to serve in the capacity of a municipal police officer. Departmental management will work with you and the commonwealth to determine what the applicable requirements are.”
Pell opted to retire the next month.
The whistleblower said the state Attorney General’s office is investigating the township regarding what they called a “ghost” employee. However, the Attorney General’s spokesperson had no comment when asked about any investigation into Lower Makefield Township’s payroll practices.