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City officials release details of separation agreement

Details of the separation agreement between Cloquet Police Chief Steve Stracek and the Cloquet City Council were released by city officials after the Pine Journal went to press last week.

The agreement came almost three months after Stracek had been placed on paid administrative leave by a 4-1 vote (two were out of town) of the council during a March 16 emergency meeting called by Mayor Dave Hallback after receiving a complaint from the police union.

Officials with Teamsters Local 346, which represents rank-and-file Cloquet police officers, reported the complaint was filed after department members conducted a "vote of no confidence" in Stracek — what the union said was a "last resort to express concern over the chief's lack of leadership, lack of communication, lack of support for officers and poor policy decisions."

At the end of last week's marathon council meeting, Stracek was exonerated of all allegations and reinstated — but also agreed to retire from the city's police department — under the terms of a "separation and release agreement" reached seven and a half hours after the June 6 Cloquet City Council meeting began.

The seven-member Cloquet City Council, in a vote taken at about 2:30 a.m., unanimously found that allegations in the following documents were not substantiated: the March 16 letter from the Teamsters, an internal/citizens complaint procedure submitted March 28 by the Teamsters (according to police procedures and policy, this is required when a complaint is filed), the investigative report submitted May 11 and a letter from Interim City Administrator James Barclay to Stracek from May 19.

Under the agreement, Stracek was immediately reinstated to his post Wednesday but agreed to retire the next day.

"The city affirms that Steve Stracek is exonerated of all such allegations," the agreement reads. "The city will not take any further action on the allegations."

The document also states the city and Stracek "mutually feel that it is in the best interests of both parties" that Stracek "amicably separate from employment with the city."

Among other terms of the agreement:

• Stracek — who had been on paid administrative leave since March — will receive a lump sum payment of $48,117.78, the equivalent of six months' salary. He'll also receive payment for unused vacation days.

• Stracek will waive his right to pursue any claims, grievances or damages against the city and city officials related to his employment with the police department.

• Stracek will not make any "grossly disparaging or defamatory statements" to the media about his employment with the city, to the extent that they are protected speech. Cloquet's elected officials and the interim city administrator will not make any "disparaging or defamatory statements" about Stracek's employment with the city.

• Stracek and the city are responsible for paying their own attorney fees.

In addition to the councilors, attorneys and city officials, about a dozen residents and Cloquet police officers remained at City Hall through the end of the meeting in the early morning hours. Stracek and his attorney joined the rest of the audience to hear part of the agreement — the part in which states Stracek is exonerated of all allegations — read aloud. That reading was another stipulation of the agreement.

Stracek was also given 15 calendar days to change his mind as part of the agreement.

Stracek was hired as chief in August 2014 after a 21-year career with the Duluth Police Department, where he had most recently served as commander of the multi-agency Lake Superior Drug and Violent Crime Task Force. City officials confirmed that the March complaint was the only one filed against Stracek during his time in Cloquet.

The council last month authorized payment of $10,660 to Soldo Consulting P.C., which conducted an investigation of the complaint.

The police department has been led in the interim by Sgt. Jeff Palmer, who was appointed March 16. Information on the city's next steps in hiring a permanent replacement for Stracek was not immediately available; the next regularly scheduled council meeting is June 20.