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Records reveal lone complaint of police chief

It was a single complaint filed against the Cloquet police chief that led to his ongoing paid suspension, the Pine Journal has learned from a public data request to the city of Cloquet.

Interim City Administrator James Barclay, who has been working with a law firm out of the Twin Cities, responded April 20 to a public data request made March 16 by the Pine Journal. The public data request asked for records of all complaints filed or disciplinary actions taken against Cloquet Police Chief Steve Stracek — who had been suspended earlier that evening.

According to records obtained through the Minnesota Freedom of Information Act, one complaint was filed against Stracek since he was hired in August 2014. The complaint was filed by members of the police union March 16.

Later the same day Stracek was placed on paid administrative leave after Mayor Dave Hallback called an emergency Cloquet City Council meeting, which was then closed for discussion of the complaint and possibly over whom to appoint as interim chief. The council voted on both items without discussion when the meeting was reopened.

Although the contents of the complaint have not been made public, Teamsters Local 346 released the following statement to the Pine Journal March 28 after the paper learned the union filed the complaint: "After all other attempts at communication failed, members of the Cloquet Police Department conducted a 'Vote of No Confidence' in Chief Stracek. This vote was the last resort to express concern over the chief's lack of leadership, lack of communication, lack of support for officers, and poor policy decisions that have created an alarming state of morale and concerns regarding public and officer safety."

Because they are public and elected officials, Stracek, police and city employees, the mayor and city councilors have been told not to discuss anything related to the investigation while it's ongoing. The Pine Journal has not been able to determine what kind of attempts at communication were made between the chief and members of the police union prior to the complaint March 16.

Barclay wrote that there were no previous complaints filed against Stracek — either by citizens or the police officers he supervised.

The city denied the Pine Journal's request for further information about Stracek because the complaint is currently under investigation, and because the data is non-public according to state statute and legal precedent set in Northwest Publications, Inc. v. City of Bloomington in 1993. Citing that case, Barclay wrote "data accessible to you and data not accessible to you is so inextricably intertwined that segregation of the data would leave the remaining part of the data with little informational value." The city used the same argument to deny a request for the recording of the closed meeting March 16, after the Pine Journal asserted that it was a violation of open meeting law to discuss the interim chief appointment.

The city has hired an independent investigator to investigate the complaint against Stracek and report back to the Cloquet City Council. Although Barclay said he couldn't comment on the status of that investigation, he did explain that any meeting in which the city council and mayor may discuss the report would be closed to the public as well as the person being investigated. A meeting for disciplinary purposes is closed to the public unless the person being disciplined or rebutting proposed actions requests that it be open, he said.

Barclay said discussion of the complaint or discipline can happen at a regular or special meeting of the Cloquet City Council and would be noted on the agenda in advance. A special meeting requires three-days public notice.

The next regular meeting of the Cloquet City Council is 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 16, at Cloquet City Hall. Work sessions start at 5:30 p.m. The agenda was not posted yet when the Pine Journal went to press.

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