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Costs for police chief inquiry approaches $50,000

The investigation of Cloquet Police Chief Steve Stracek appears to be complete, as the company hired to investigate him submitted its first and final invoice to the city of Cloquet earlier this month.

It hasn't come cheaply.

As part of a May 16 city council meeting, councilors approved payment of $10,660 to Soldo Consulting P.C.

Soldo was hired by the city to conduct an independent investigation of Stracek. On Tuesday, Cloquet Finance Director Nancy Klassen verified that the invoice was final — no additional charges are expected.

During the same May 16 council meeting, councilors and Mayor Dave Hallback met in closed session for nearly three hours with Brandon Fitzsimmons and Erica Heikel of Flaherty and Hood, P.A., the city's labor law attorney and assistant, respectively. In addition to the investigators' payment, the agenda also included records of $9,428 paid to Flaherty and Hood already, with another $3,566 still owed to the law firm.

Stracek has been on paid administrative leave since March 16, at a cost of $1,850 per week to the city. If the Cloquet City Council chooses to hold a disciplinary hearing regarding the complaint against Stracek at its June 6 meeting, Stracek will have been on paid leave for nearly 12 weeks — at $22,208 in costs to the city.

Including investigation and labor attorney fees, the paid suspension has totaled $45,862.

That doesn't include additional wages paid to Jeff Palmer, the Cloquet police sergeant who was appointed interim police chief at the same March 16 emergency council meeting at which Stracek was put on leave — or any overtime incurred to cover Palmer's shifts since then.

Because they are public and elected officials, Stracek, police and city employees, the mayor and city councilors have been told not to discuss city actions regarding the matter. As a result, the contents of the investigative report and the actual complaint are still unknown to the public.

According to attorney Mark Anfinson, who advises Minnesota Newspaper Association members on open meeting law and other issues, if Stracek is disciplined in any way (which includes firing), the following information would become public: "final disposition of any disciplinary action together with the specific reasons for the action and data documenting the basis of the action, excluding data that would identify confidential sources who are employees of the public body."

Anfinson said if Stracek is not disciplined in any way, nothing more becomes public without his consent.

According to records obtained by the Pine Journal through the Minnesota Freedom of Information Act, the complaint received March 16 was the only complaint filed against Stracek since he was hired in August 2014.

Although the contents of that 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."

Nearly every council meeting since Stracek was placed on leave has been packed with citizens, and many have addressed the council regarding the suspension and investigation.