At an emotion-filled meeting, the Madison City Council late Tuesday narrowly approved reimbursing police chief Mike Koval for legal expenses he spent fighting a misconduct complaint.
Council members voted to 15-4 to pay Koval $22,000 in legal costs after the Madison Police and Fire Commission ruled in March that he committed misconduct for making disrespectful comments but declined to discipline him. The council debated three repayments of varying amounts, but ultimately settled on the full cost while noting his actions aren't sanctioned by the council.
The reimbursement needed 15 votes since the money will come from city reserve funds.
Ald. David Ahrens was seeking a payment of $19,536, while Ald. Rebecca Kemble thought $15,601 more appropriate. They said they offered their plans as proportional responses to how the commission ruled on the complaint.
But City Attorney Michael May said he believed Koval prevailed in front of the commission and called anything less than the full reimbursement to be "more in the political world than legal world."
Kemble took offense to the comment. "Let's be very clear and not be bullied by legal talk," she said. "We have a policy decision here."
The complaint stemmed from when Koval called Sharon Irwin -- the grandmother of Tony Robinson, a teenager fatally shot by a police officer in 2015 -- a "raging lunatic" in a stairwell of the City-County Building last June.
The commission also dismissed charges that Koval acted inappropriately when he pounded on a desk during the same evening at a heated City Council meeting and appeared to make a threatening gesture by reaching toward his gun in the stairwell.
The commission declined to suspend, demote or fire Koval, but rebuked his comments toward Irwin.
Several council members in favor of full reimbursement said they disapproved of his behavior but acknowledged it wasn't the City Council's responsibility to discipline Koval.
You have free articles remaining.
"It's very difficult to separate emotion from this because it is highly charged and it is emotional on both sides," said Ald. Barbara Harrington-McKinney. "But right now, what's before us is, what does the law say for us to do, the process."
Other members were more vocal about their objections.
"Nothing is going to change. Unfortunately, he's still going to be the same person, and we're going to be back here again for this," said Ald. Sheri Carter.
Koval was not present during the discussion, having left the council meeting earlier in the evening.
Of the $22,000 in fees, about $2,900 resulted from a separate complaint against Koval that was dismissed by the commission.
Ramp funds rejected
Also at the meeting, members narrowly denied additional funds for the construction of a public parking ramp on the Near East Side.
The city was asking for $1.9 million more for the Capitol East parking garage, slated for the corner of South Livingston and East Main streets, due to market-related high construction costs. It would have raised the cost to $18.67 million.
Members voted 14-4 in favor of the funds, just short of the 15-vote threshold needed to amend the city's capital budget. The project calls for a 658-space ramp and a separate three-story structure with 9,500 square feet of commercial space.
Matt Mikolajewski, the city economic development director, said parts of the projects will have to be removed without the money, potentially eliminating the commercial space.
Ahrens, 15th District, who has consistently opposed the ramp, said the city is offering leases for parking spaces in the ramp to tenants from nearby developments at rates that are too favorable to the tenants, citing a "disparity" from other rates paid Downtown.
The council also approved $595,000 in a tax incremental finance (TIF) loan to support the retention of 170 full-time jobs at Extreme Engineering Solutions at its new facility on the Far West Side. The loan is contingent upon the City Council approving a TIF district for that area.