The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

June 1, 2013

Ask about generosity of strangers


The Daily Item

— The lines are clearly drawn in the Donald Zerbe case in Hartleton.

On one side, there is the embattled chief, backed by the members of the tiny community in near-unanimous support of their top cop who helped build a first-rate playground. His alleged Robin Hood act remains a big hit with locals, who have undoubtedly been helped at one time or another by their loyal chief.

On the other side are those who don’t live in the tiny town. They only see a small-town police chief doing things the way he wants. Maybe the outsiders have been nabbed speeding through Hartleton. In their eyes, Zerbe abused his authority when he allegedly offered accused speeders the choice between a lawful ticket and fine or a donation to the town playground fund. Period.

The Zerbe case is one that draws interest because there aren’t many like it. It is good-cop bad-cop wrapped in one person.

This story will not end with Zerbe’s fate, however. Important questions remain unanswered regarding the playground fund, including who handled the money and how much they knew? Did all the money gathered this way go to the playground fund? Why were passers-by from distant environs donating $150 checks to fund a beautiful playground in someone else’s town?

Even in a town of 200 people, bells should have gone off in someone’s head.

Zerbe allegedly started what happened in Hartleton, but it does not look like a one-man show. Police said two very obedient part-time officers who worked for Zerbe both questioned the legality of stopping drivers and offering them a way out of the ticket. One of them, James Galbraith, now leads the department during Zerbe’s suspension.

Solicitor Mark Lemon, a legal professional and sworn officer of the court, eventually received all the checks, according to court documents. The money was kept in an account separate from all other borough funds.

Hartleton Mayor Jim Dorman said this week that Chief Zerbe “is a giver, not a taker.” That argument wins a lot of fans in the court of public opinion. Whether it prevails in a court of law remains to be seen.

What may also remain to be seen, in light of other possibilities, is whether the list of defendants grows.