Cloquet Police Chief Steve 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 early Wednesday after a marathon meeting.
The seven-member Cloquet City Council unanimously found that a complaint brought against Stracek in March was "unfounded." Under the agreement, Stracek was immediately reinstated to his post but agreed to retire effective Thursday.
"The city affirms that Steve Stracek is exonerated of all such allegations," the agreement read. "The city will not take any further action on the allegations."
The decision was reached just before 2:30 a.m. at a regular city council meeting that started at 7 p.m. The council spent parts of more than seven hours in closed session discussing the situation, and attorneys for both Stracek and the city were in frequent contact in the hours before the agreement was formalized.
Stracek and Mayor Dave Hallback declined immediate comment on the situation after the meeting ended.
"Not tonight," Stracek said shortly after the agreement was formally reached. "I've got to kind of figure it out."
At Large Councilor Adam Bailey, who read the agreement aloud in open session, simply said afterward: "I just think it was a good outcome for all involved."
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.
After handling other business, the council closed its regular meeting at about 7:20 p.m. Tuesday to discuss the allegations against Stracek. The police chief and his attorney entered the closed-door session a short time after it began and spent about 30 minutes inside before retreating an adjacent private conference room to wait out a vote.
The police chief had been on administrative leave from the city since March 16, when the council voted 3-2 - with two members absent - to suspend him while conducting an investigation into a complaint filed against him.
Officials with Teamsters Local 346, which represents rank-and-file Cloquet police officers, reported that 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."
The union and city administration otherwise have declined to provide details on the nature of the complaint.
Several current and former Cloquet police officers were in attendance at the meeting, and the council heard briefly from two representatives of the Teamsters before the closed session. They spoke only generally of the situation, not mentioning Stracek by name.
"I'd like to personally thank the mayor and councilors for realizing and understanding the officers' concerns and hiring a third party to investigate," said Roderick Alstead, secretary-treasurer for the union. "Nobody wishes this on anybody. It's time for us to move forward as a department, a community and a council. Let the healing being, and hopefully everyone can pull in the same direction."
After about an hour and 40 minutes of deliberation, the council reconvened at 9 p.m. but immediately went into recess. Stracek remained in the conference room, but his attorney and the city's labor law attorney could be seen talking.
That continued for hours, until the meeting reconvened in open session just before 2:30 a.m. and the separation and release agreement read and approved. Stracek and his attorney joined the rest of the audience to hear the agreement read aloud.
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 against the chief.
The police department has been led in the interim by Sgt. Jeff Palmer, who was selected over the agency's two higher-ranking commanders. Information on the city's next steps in hiring a permanent replacement for Stracek were not immediately available.
Stracek had the option of requesting that Tuesday night's discussion of the allegations be kept open to the public, but declined to do so.
Under Minnesota law, the public has access to the "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."