HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Two important positions within the City of Harrisburg are open after two people left their posts.
After two weeks of several murders and shootings, there was a call for peace by the Mayor’s Interfaith Council Tuesday morning.
“We declare that Harrisburg is a safe zone,” said one man. “We come against the spirit of murder and the spirit of death.”
These happened moments before the police department bid farewell to a man they said dedicated his life to protecting the city. Captain Colin Clearly announced his retirement 22 years to the day he began his career with Harrisburg Police.
Chief Thomas Carter said called his second in command a “superhero” without a cape and mask.
“I cannot begin to tell you how I sorely miss Captain Cleary,” he said.
After serving six years in the military, Cleary began his career with Harrisburg Police on May 20, 1993. Mayor Eric Papenfuse said Cleary rose through the ranks, was promoted to captain in 2010, and was named leader of the Uniformed Patrol Division last March. Carter said Cleary was involved in every division of the department over his career.
“I’m grateful for the taxpayers of Harrisburg for giving me this job,” Cleary said. “I’m grateful for the men and women I work with.”
Some members on the police force expressed concerns with the timing of Cleary’s departure. While Cleary has the 20 years minimum needed to retire, the 48-year-old is unable to collect his union pension until age 50.
When asked, Cleary said the union contract revision under the ‘Strong Plan’ would change medical benefits by the end of the year for tenured positions like captain.
He also explained he wanted to leave to spend time with his family. In an emotional speech, Cleary thanked his wife and family for dealing with the trials and tribulations of being a police officer as his lip quivered and he choked back tears.
“Being a police spouse in the City of Harrisburg means your husband gets up from dinner and takes the phone call,” he said. “It means your husband, when he calls you up in the middle of the night and tells you that you need an outfit for a 5-year-old boy and you need to be at the front door with it, you just do it without question. Maybe later when he comes home and stares at his breakfast and he doesn’t say anything, you’re there for him, too. Without the support of my wife and my family, I couldn’t have had a successful career here.”
Cleary said he may also have a prospective position with another department, but would not elaborate on those details. Papenfuse said Carter will look at viable candidates and ask the mayor to sign off on his pick to replace Cleary as captain.
Equally important as public safety is the role of a municipal grant writer. Errol Newark was the city’s senior grant writer since Papenfuse took office. The mayor said Newark has been instrumental in helping secure millions of state and federal funds to the city, which is magnified under the current recovery plan.
Newark said he is leaving for a position in Virginia to be closer with is family, but he, too, became emotional when talking about leaving his Harrisburg family.
“Without the team work and that team spirit, I don’t think I would’ve been successful as I was,” he said. “Having said that, it is a bittersweet moment for me.”
His loss is not lost on Papenfuse.
“It is a big deal,” he said. “Errol has certainly done a wonderful job.”
Newark said he applied for two more grants on his final day and will submit them while on his way to his new job.
His vacancy leaves a conundrum for Harrisburg at the moment. On a day Dauphin County Commissioners voted to provide a local grant to help fund residents reeling with the sinkhole on 14th Street, a requirement the city needed to apply for millions in FEMA funding.
It just so happens, that FEMA application process is now.
Papenfuse said Newark made sure he educated others in the administration to help with the transition. He said that “it should not and will not” impact the FEMA application process.
“You’ll see people like Wayne Martin, city engineer, taking the lead with regard to the sinkhole funding until we have a new grants writer in place,” he said.
Papenfuse said the city has received a few applications, but he would encourage more to apply for the job.