The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

January 3, 2013

Ex-Sunbury assistant chief loses appeal hearing

By Francis Scarcella
The Daily Item

SUNBURY —  A former assistant fire chief who waited three months to speak with the board of directors that banned him for life over allegations of misconduct finally had the opportunity Thursday.

But the result of the two-hour, informal proceeding at the Rescue Hose Company did little for Rick Sinko.

At the end, a panel of three trustees voted to expel him from the company.

Sinko had been banned for life and his membership revoked in October. He also was placed on administrative leave from the fire department by the city of Sunbury. Sinko later quit the fire department and left the city he served for more than 30 years.

A panel of Rescue members alleged that Sinko was involved in mishandling funds and conduct unbecoming a member, but no criminal charges have been brought in the case. Rescue board president Stanley Wirth issued a handwritten statement to Sinko, declaring that Sinko was barred for life as of Oct. 9.

Sinko hired an attorney to fight the allegations and even had City Council threaten to withhold funds from the Rescue Hose Company if it didn’t give him a hearing.

On Thursday, Sinko arrived at the Rescue Hose Company with his attorney Greg Stuck, of Northumberland.

“All I want to do is fight fires,” Sinko said. “And I all wanted out of this hearing was to clear my name.”

Sinko testified in front of three Rescue Hose Company trustees, including Wirth.

Sinko claimed he never mishandled funds or approved extra work hours for his girlfriend and former bar manager/bartender Michelle Suhovsky, 37, of Sunbury.

Sinko told the panel he had abstained from voting when the fire company’s house committee made Suhovsky bar manager.

According to statements made by company members, Sinko wrote himself a check for $200 for repair work, made purchases that were not fire house-related and signed off on Suhovsky’s paychecks.

Stuck told the panel that there wasn’t enough evidence provided to him to prove Sinko did anything wrong.

“All they showed us was a group of papers that had purchases made,” Stuck said. “The problem is it had signatures from everybody and their brother on them.”

The panel decided there was enough evidence to expel Sinko as an officer and remove him from the company.

“They didn’t originally do this,” Stuck said. “They sent a letter that banned Mr. Sinko for life and barred him from the property. They didn’t even follow their own bylaws.”

During the two-hour hearing Stuck continued to ask for evidence other than written statements from several individuals. Stuck wanted to see a videotape that allegedly shows Suhovsky sitting at the bar eating breakfast and reading the newspaper when she should have been working. No footage was provided.

Sinko testified that he did accept a check for $200 for repair work and did make purchases for company use, but said he never purchased anything for himself and he never fudged time slips for his girlfriend.

Sinko also stated that work done at the company was almost never approved by the board of trustees. Sinko said the the board would get involved only when there was a major purchase.

Toward the end of the hearing, Sinko said all he wanted from the fire company was an approved transfer so he could fight fires elsewhere in the city.

The panel of three didn’t grant that request, and after a brief discussion, voted 3-0 in favor of expelling Sinko.

Sinko thanked the panel and said he took the hearing to clear his name because he thought the fire company had a vendetta against him for actions he took when he served as treasurer..

“I began telling people what I thought,” he said. “Some people didn’t like that and they are trying to get back at me. Well, they did a good job at it.”

n Email comments to fscarcella@dailyitem.com.