Stephen E. Mikac retired last year as Hamburg assistant police chief with an extra $45,500 in his pocket and a higher pension.
The increased pay as well as a letter of reprimand were part of a settlement that ended a disciplinary hearing that could have resulted in his dismissal. In addition, Mikac also took back charges of harassment and wrongdoing that he filed against the town.
Hamburg town officials provided the settlement agreement to The Buffalo News six months after the newspaper filed a Freedom of Information Law request, which the town initially denied.
The News appealed that denial, and the agreement was finally released after Joseph M. Finnerty, the attorney for The News, met with Town Attorney Kenneth Farrell last week.
The settlement was a good agreement, according to Mikac’s attorney, David B. Cotter. After a “distinguished and unblemished” law enforcement career of 25 years, the former assistant chief was so stunned by “baseless and petty accusations” against him that he did not want to continue working in that environment, Cotter said.
“He was fully prepared to defend himself and, I believe, that after an impartial review of the allegations and evidence, he would have been absolved completely, but that would leave him in a pretty toxic work environment,” Cotter said.
The settlement came three days into a hearing on charges that Mikac, 53, had violated rules, orders and regulations in dealing with a female recruit, and by asking the captains and lieutenants union to contribute to his defense fund.
The hearing on the charges before an administrative law judge last April and May was open at Mikac’s request. It included testimony by the former recruit, Yvonne Kempski, who filed a notice of claim against the town, Police Department, police chief and the two assistant chiefs, alleging that she was subjected to crude, sexual, demeaning and inappropriate comments by officers assigned to train her.
She also said she was asked to perform training scenarios that male probationary officers were not asked to perform, and she sought $3 million in damages.
When she complained to Mikac, he told her at one point to “suck it up,” the notice of claim states.
The Town Board approved the settlement with Mikac during an executive session June 25, and both sides cited a confidentiality clause in the agreement as the reason they would not disclose the contents. In the event that Mikac violated the confidentiality clause, he would have been forced to pay the town a $30,000 penalty.
Supervisor Steven J. Walters said there are confidential items in the agreement, the letter of reprimand and notice of claim. Some of the information was redacted in the copy provided to The News.
“Obviously, as your attorney conceded, there was stuff in there that was confidential in nature,” Walters told The News.
In fact, the redacted information Walters described as “confidential” was previously available to The News from documents.
Cotter said town officials wanted the settlement to remain confidential and that they did not give a reason. He suggested it could be because they did not want the public to know how the taxpayers’ money is being spent or did not want to give a window into the turmoil that exists in town government.
The redacted items referred to Kempski and the charges she made that she was harassed by other officers at work, including in a patrol car. Her notice of claim states that after she complained but was not allowed to make a formal complaint to the town, her training and evaluations ceased and she was terminated.
Also redacted were about six lines in the letter of reprimand concerning Mikac and his contact with Kempski. She had told Mikac she felt she was being graded unfairly by field training officers, and Mikac was charged with not informing the police chief about that. Mikac also asked the Command Officers’ Association for money for legal expenses, although as assistant chief, he was responsible for disciplining and scheduling the officers and was a member of the management bargaining committee, the letter stated.
While Mikac faced more than a dozen departmental charges in the hearing, the letter substantiated violations of just two sections of the rules.
“You are hereby reprimanded,” the letter states.
The settlement also resolves the harassment complaints Mikac filed with the town and in federal court.
He said in court papers that he was discriminated against and retaliated against by the town and Police Chief Michael Williams and that charges were filed against him in retaliation for refusing to engage in a “sexual and/or romantic relationship” with Councilwoman Amy Ziegler.
The additional money for Mikac comes in the form of a 25 percent increase in base pay, from $102,000 to $127,504 annually, though he was paid half that amount because he retired June 30.
He also received double pay for 14 holidays in 2012 and a longevity payment of $19,100, which is in addition to the $12,800 in longevity he was paid earlier in the year, and at a rate that is 25 percent higher than the previous year’s longevity.
Since police pensions are based on earnings in the final years of work, the higher salary also will be part of the calculation of his pension.
Mikac also was paid for unused vacation, sick and compensation time, which he was entitled to under his old contract, though those payments apparently will be at the higher rate of pay.
Robert J. Freeman, executive director of the New York Committee on Open Government and an expert on the Freedom of Information Law, wrote an advisory opinion stating that the settlement should be released.
“Certainly, there has been resistance to the disclosure of agreements of this nature,” he told The News on Wednesday. “However, judicial precedent clearly indicates that they must be disclosed, and it is gratifying to learn that the town decided to comply with the law.”