Guest Commentary: Call your councilors and ask for answers
I am writing because I am concerned about a complaint filed against Cloquet Police Chief Steve Stracek by Teamsters General Local Union No. 346, which represents Cloquet police officers (but not administration). Chief Stracek was placed on paid administrative leave Thursday, March 16, during an emergency meeting of the Cloquet City Council.
According to the story in last week's Pine Journal, the vote came "after Mayor Dave Hallbeck and councilors closed the emergency meeting, citing state statute that allows closure for discussion relating to allegations of law enforcement personnel misconduct."
The article states Mayor Hallbeck asked twice for a second to the motion to place Chief Stracek on paid administrative leave. The article continues: "A second motion to appoint Police Sgt. Jeff Palmer as interim chief (provided he accepted) passed on a 3-2 vote, with Langley making the motion and Hallbeck seconding after a lengthy silence.
The question I have, and I'm sure many others have, or should have, is this: Since the complaint was filed by the Teamsters Local 346, representing Cloquet police officers, and Mayor Hallbeck is a retired member of that union, why did he not recuse himself and leave the room, letting the acting mayor take his place for discussion and any possible action? By not recusing himself, the mayor gives the perception of a conflict of interest.
If the mayor has an actual conflict of interest, only he knows. But it leaves all of the citizens of Cloquet wondering. If anyone would like to know more about this perceived conflict of interest, contact the mayor or your council person.
Is it an extremely unusual coincidence that the day the council met to consider a police union complaint against the Police Chief:
1) the person who filed the charge was on vacation,
2) City Administrator Brian Fritsinger's last day on the job was the next day, and
3) City Councilor Kerry Kolodge was not at the meeting?
Or was it extremely good planning by Teamsters Union Local 346? Each person can make up their own mind, or call the mayor or your city councilor.
In addition to placing the Police Chief on paid administrative leave, the council also appointed Sgt. Jeff Palmer as interim acting police chief.
In 2009 the Cloquet City Council voted unanimously to terminate patrol officer Jeff Palmer for having a sexual relationship with a witness in a case in which he was the lead investigator. Palmer and Teamsters Union 346 grieved the decision and the city was required to reinstate him.
Now the mayor and some city councilors have elected him to be our interim chief.
I think citizens of Cloquet should also know that the vast majority of people who know Chief Stracek in his personal or professional life have nothing but the utmost respect for him. He has been supported by the Duluth police chief and numerous Duluth police officers, where he was a policeman for 21 years. He is also supported by a great many people who know him through his personal life.
I have not talked with Chief Stracek, but I believe he has been making efforts since his
appointment here to improve the professionalism and public perception of the Cloquet Police Department. Many citizens believe this is something that is needed.
I have some concern in writing this letter that I may face retribution from current or former members of Teamsters General Local Union No. 346.
Don Walsh has lived in the Cloquet area most of his life. He is a former member of the Cloquet Planning commission, Community Education Board and follows local politics and news closely.