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When the right thing and the easiest thing are not the same

Publishing a full accounting of the situation involving Canfield Police Chief Chuck Colucci brings no one pleasure. It's an awkward story about an otherwise solid stand-up person doing something obviously wrong. 
Mark Sweetwood

There are days when doing journalism is easier than others; when the decisions are obvious; when the words flow freely; when your conscience doesn’t beat you up.

This is not one of those days.

Publishing a full accounting of the situation involving Canfield Police Chief Chuck Colucci brings no one pleasure. It's an awkward story about an otherwise solid, stand-up person doing something obviously wrong. 

The city’s report earlier this month omitted the names of the subjects of an investigation about an inappropriate relationship between a city supervisor and a subordinate. When we pushed we were told: Every media in town had taken a pass, so why won’t you just drop it? 

And, sure, that was the easier path. Consenting adults. No official business was impacted. The guy is sorry. The families have been through enough.

What’s to gain from publishing?

Certainly, the downsides were obvious. Canfield is not likely to want to play ball on other stories. Some readers will think we are simply click-baiting for eyeballs and/or seizing upon the prurient interests of the gossip-mongers.

But a tip made us pause and focus on what this story really was: During part of the time Colucci was having this relationship — brought to the city’s attention by both Colucci and the husband of the subordinate who happened upon texts and pictures — he was also human resources director for the city.

So this wasn’t just a story about the top law enforcement officer in the city having an unseemly lapse in judgment. He was also charged with making sure city employees followed workplace rules. So he was setting a bad example at multiple levels and exposing the city to the type of lawsuits, morale issues, etc. that led to the existence of human resource departments in the first place.

And he was paid an extra $26,000 for his combined police chief/HR director role. He was paid extra for that HR role from January 2018 through Jan. 22, 2020, which overlapped with that relationship that began this past August.

Here’s the other nagging reality: From both inside and outside city hall, we’ve been repeatedly told that in the private sector, a boss/HR director having such a relationship and otherwise fraternizing in this manner with a subordinate would likely be grounds for termination.

Even if he was a solid, stand-up guy who confessed.

Why are the rules different in the public sector? Nobody has yet to provide an answer to that question.

So who made us judge, jury and executioner? No one. In the end, the taxpayers of Canfield get to be judge, jury and executioner. They get to judge Colucci. They get to judge us. But at least they have all of the facts.

We built into our mission and DNA some lofty goals, including to tell the stories that others would not tell and to give people the information they needed to be better-informed citizens so they could best navigate their government.

We don't seek to "bring down" Canfield or Colucci, but it is our job to tell you what is going on in the government that your hard-earned tax dollars fund. We’ll also tell the other stories about what is going on in Canfield and across the Valley. Some won’t be so awkward. But today just isn't that day.

In a 37-year career, I’ve learned a few things. My gut instinct is developed and profound. The correct decisions are rarely the easiest.

After a restless night of sleep, I woke up last Friday and sat down to write this. And then told reporter Justin Dennis what we were going to do.

So if you have a complaint, the buck stops right here.