Taxpayers are one step closer to picking up the tab for Madison Police Chief Mike Koval's legal fees after the city's finance committee passed a measure to do just that on to the City Council Monday.
Koval incurred $21,953 in fees from Sept. 6, 2016, through March 15, 2017, to hire a lawyer to defend him before the Police and Fire Commission in three separate complaints from community members, according to a Pines Bach LLP invoice.
Sharon Irwin and Shadayra Kilfoy-Flores filed separate but related charges against Koval in August 2016. They argued Koval violated MPD and city standards of conduct in three separate incidents that took place over the course of a contentious Madison City Council meeting June 7, 2016.
However, after an evidentiary hearing Nov. 16, written closing arguments and deliberation by commission members, the PFC decided it would not take disciplinary action against the chief. The board determined Koval was guilty of misconduct in one of the incidents highlighted in the complaints, but it was not serious enough to warrant suspension, demotion or discharge — the PFC’s only options for discipline.
The PFC admonished Koval for calling Irwin a “raging lunatic" but dismissed charges that he moved his hand toward his hip as a threatening gesture to his gun and of disruptive behavior during the council meeting.
City Attorney Mike May recommended the city reimburse Koval, referencing a state statute, city ordinance and an agreement between the city and the Madison Professional Police Officers Association. Under the MPPOA agreement, the city is committed to paying reasonable attorney's’ fees if the PFC exonerates the employee of charges or if the charges are “otherwise dismissed or withdrawn.”
“It is clear that, in the PFC proceeding against Chief Koval, the charges were ‘otherwise dismissed,’” May said in a memo. “In my opinion, this brings the Chief within the City’s commitment to reimburse his cost and fees.”
Under state statute, the city council may provide payment to reimburse a city official who was obligated to proceed before any court, board or commission to “defend or maintain” his or her official position. Madison adopted an ordinance in September 2016 that commits the city to provide the same treatment for expenses incurred by the police and fire chiefs in defending complaints before the PFC as the city provides to other police officer and firefighters.
The PFC's decision, described by some at the meeting as "ambiguous," left finance committee members and alders looking for more understanding. May acknowledged the lack of clarity in the PFC's decision and suggested communicating the finance committee's concerns to the PFC.
"What I would have preferred is something that very clearly went through the code of conduct at issue," May said.
Ald. Marsha Rummel, District 6, voted against funding the legal fees. Due to the PFC's acknowledgment that the chief did act in error — even if it was not to the point of punishment — Rummel said she could not condone paying the entirety of the fees.
"This is troubling because I understand the argument ... but here we have an example of behavior that should not just be totally dismissed," Rummel said. "I don’t know really know how, given the parameters and boundaries we’re stuck in, to give that message. It strikes me that there was something that was just ... inappropriate in his actions that it doens’t feel right to me to give him all the money."
Former Madison alder Brenda Konkel highlighted the challenges for a resident to file a complaint with the police department and is not in favor of the city supporting the chief's legal fees.
"If you were to reimburse the chief for his fees that sends a very strong message to the community that the chief can do whatever he wants and the rules don’t apply to him," Konkel said.
Moving forward, Kilfoy-Flores said she is disappointed and plans to support any other Madison residents who bring complaints against the police department.
"I’m going to support my other community members in coming forward with their complaints against (Koval) and and try to support them and letting them know not to be discouraged," Kilfoy-Flores said.
The third citizen complaint listed in Koval's legal fee invoice was that of Roxane Stillman who filed a handwritten complaint against the chief and Officer Tom Helgren Aug. 17, 2016. The PFC decided March 14 to dismiss the case.
If approved by the City Council, the city will pay for the legal fees using contingent reserve funds, bringing the balance of the 2017 Contingent Reserve to $1,387,428.
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